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This collection of c^/** s VK s first published 
as a special number of The London Times 
Literary Supplement. As a careful and 
trenchant survey of the British cultural 
scene it is currently unrivalled. It is here 
presented with an introduction by the edi- 
tor of the Supplement, Arthur Crook, and 
forms an invaluable companion volume to 
The American Imagination, the Supple- 
ments critical examination of the arts in 
America, which was published in I960. 

From autobiography through advertising, 
the essays deal wisely and entertainingly 
with every aspect of the current cultural 
scene; thus the multifarious activities in the 
fields of fiction, poetry, theatre, radio, tele- 
vision, music, ballet, art, philosophy, psy- 
chology, and science come in for balanced 
treatment. There are also essays which deal 
with the less central but equally intriguing 
subjects of snobbery, the universities, mu- 
seums, and publishing and printing. Fi- 
nally, an essay on women (The Lady 
Vanishes^ but What's Become of Her 
Daughters') poses questions of more than 
usual interest. 

The essays in this book are of the highest 
quality, and, mom tfaaa in. many books by 
OK .hand,' show a coherent whole. In the 
tocition of the Suppkment, the many au- 
thors a 




D TUJQl 0~3431fll 3 ' 



61-15765 
The Times, London, Literary 
Supplement . 
The British, imagination 



qii-2 1583^ 61-15763 . 
ihe Times, London. Literary 
Supplement. $^.5 . 
The British imagination 




The British Imagination 



tiCT 1961 



The British 
Imagination 

A Critical Survey 

from 
The Times Literary Supplement 

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY 
ARTHUR CROOK 



New York ATHENEUM Publishers 



The Times Publishing Company Limited, 1960 

First published in The Times Literary Supplement, 1960 

Foreword Arthur Crook 1961 

First published in this edition 1961 



All rights reserved 



Printed in Great Britain by 
Cox & Wytuan Limited, London, Reading and Fakeulwu 



- b 
AN INTRODUCTION 

BY 
ARTHUR CROOK 



The British Imagination 



Some years ago The Times Literary Supplement noticed Henry de 
Montherlant's Les Celibataires in the original French version. The 
reviewer was expansively appreciative of the book's excellences, 
but thought that it might well have been called Lament for the Death of an 
Upper Class. Several years later an English translation appeared. Again 
it was noticed at length in the T.L.S., and again the review was favour- 
able. It was emphatic in its disapproval of the tide, which was 'rather 
absurd'. The title was Lament for the Death of an Upper Class. 

Besides stressing the truism that there is no pleasing all of the people 
(particularly literary critics?) all of the time, this little incident reflects 
some of the pitfalls which may attend any attempt to find a common 
critical denominator amidst a welter of typically British characteristics 
and differences. 

Possibly some of the chapters in this symposium would have been 
quite different had they been written by Mr. X or Mr. Y; but it was 
not conceived as a nosegay to the distinguished departed, as yet another 
contribution to the Coleridgean discussion of the nature of imagination, 
but as an attempt to show, to people overseas as well as at home, the 
British Imagination operating (well or badly) in practice today. And 
since in this context books cannot usefully be separated from other 
forms of self-expression, it was decided to take the wide view, to look 
at as many areas of creative thought and artistic expression as possible. 

Here, then, was an opportunity to see ourselves in relation to the 
rest of the world; to test our originality and our borrowings. Clearly 
too much must not be made of this grafting of one culture on to an- 
other. One of the chapters on the visual arts notes that a whole group of 
young British painters have been profoundly influenced by the scale, 



vn 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

space, gesture and imagery of American painting ('Their work is not 
derivative, but it is clearly orientated towards New York and not 
towards Paris, unlike most British avant-garde art during the past eighty 
years') ; another insists that the native tradition is as powerful as ever. 
In this kind of self-scrutiny there can be differences in interpretation, 
just as there can be for a time at least prophets without too much 
honour in their own country. 

The time kg between the emergence of ideas and their adoption and 
execution has to be bridged* If at the war's end ideas and high hopes 
seemingly abounded, since that time there has been a good deal of talk 
about the silent revolution and a decline of British culture running 
parallel with a decline of British political influence. And certainly the 
changing forms of British society offer a most compelling challenge to 
the imagination. The chapters here on the novel, for instance, indicate 
that the particularly distinguishing British mark in this sphere is its 
new treatments of class and its attitudes towards comedy. Changes in 
theatrical style have enabled a younger generation of playwrights to 
open up some hitherto neglected social territory. Television has un- 
earthed an increasing number of writers with the gift of popular 
imagination a gift which, it is claimed, 'enables them to address a 
mass audience without any sacrifice of integrity'. Such architectural 
enterprises as town design, the building of modern schools and the 
grouping together of disparate buildings for purposes Hke universities 
underline that the present generation of British architects cannot be 
isolated from social developments; and occasions like the Battersea 
open air exhibitions of sculpture have given an extra fillip to the 
inventiveness and vigour of that art's practitioners. 

These are a few of the more immediate responses to the challenge; 
is it absurdly optimistic to see the present as only an interval between 
the acts, a pause before renewal? 

Arthur Crook 



vui 



Contents 



AUTOBIOGRAPHY: The Whole Man i 

RELIGION: The Reticent Faith 8 

FICTION: The Workaday World that the Novelist Never 

Enters 13 

The Uses of Comic Vision 20 

LITERARY CRITICISM: Evaluation in Practice 27 

POETRY: Signs of an All Too Correct Compassion 35 

Breathing Words into the Ear of an Unliterary Era 43 

Is Lallans a Unique Phenomenon? 50 

PUBLISHING AND PRINTING: Entrepreneur, Gambler and 

Missionary 54 

Pages Designed to Please 62 

CHILDREN'S BOOKS: The Large Youthful Appetite for 

Magic and Fantasy 68 

CINEMA: The Screen Holds the Eye 7<$ 

TELEVISION: A Growing Discrimination among Those Who 

Sit and Stare? 83 

RADIO: A- Time for Transmission 89 

THEATRE: Stark Attitudes in the West End Theatre 96 

ix 



CONTENTS 

MUSIC : An Island Full of Strange Noises 1 04 

Spontaneity of a Jazz Community no 

BALLET : Should a Ballet Tell a Story? 115 

SNOBBERY: Singular Saxon Attitudes 122 

ART: Travelling Images Orientations Towards New 

York 129 

The Indigenous Romantic Temper 136 

Sculptural Satisfactions 143 

ARCHITECTURE: The Architect's Ideas Begin to Take 

Shape 150 

MUSEUMS: Housing and Showing our Treasures 157 

WOMEN: The Lady Vanishes, but What's Become of her 

Daughters? 162 

PHILOSOPHY: The Post-Linguistic Thaw 168 

THE UNIVERSITIES : Dons and the Point of No Expansion 175 

PSYCHOLOGY: Subject Mind Explores Object Mind 181 

SCIENCE: The Stranger at the Feast 188 

ADVERTISING: The Advertising Go-Between 195 



The inside of an Englishman's head can be very 
fairly compared to a Murray's Guide: a great 
many facts, but few ideas ; a great deal of exact 
and useful information, statistics, figures, reliable and 
detailed maps, short and dry historical notes, useful 
and moral tips by way of preface, no all-inclusive vision, 
and no relish of good writing. It is a collection of good, 
reliable documents, a convenient body of memoranda 
to get a man through his journey without help, 

. . . By way of all these channels , . . positive informa- 
tion flows into the English brain as into a reservoir. Yet 
there is something more, a slope, as it were, "which deter- 
mines the flow of waters, the innate bent of the race, to 
wit their taste for facts and their fondness for experi- 
mental demonstration, the instinct for inductive reason- 
ing and their need for certainty. "Whoever has studied 
their literature and philosophy, from Shakespeare and 
Bacon down to the present day, knows that this inclina- 
tion is hereditary in the English, that it belongs to the 
very shape of their minds, that it is part of their very 
way of understanding truth. 

EL A. TAINE: Notes $ur YAngleterre (1871) 

translated by Edward Hyams 



AUTOBIOGRAPHY 



The Whole Man 



The British, have a name for reticence. In the teeth of all 
evidence they are expected by foreigners to travel through life 
with rigid self-control, protected by umbrella, moustache, 
extinct pipe, shyness, and a gift for self-expression strictly monoglot, 
against any but minimal contacts with other members of the human 
race. It might be held that thek common urge to express themselves 
in writing was a piece of supporting evidence. Autobiography be- 
longs to that category of statement at which we naturally excel; like 
the sermon another national art-form it allows of no riposte. 
What we are bad at is the rapid give-and-take of ideas which alone 
frightens us into silence. 

In fact, however, it is not clear that our writers write about them- 
selves in order to be spared the difficulty of talking. More probably 
they write in order to engender love, not understanding. They write 
more often to amuse than to instruct. That is why, taken in the round, 
British autobiographical writing is the most entertaining in the world. 
It is not unusual for us to trace the root of some representative 
British art or skill back to a foreign source, and so in searching for 
the beginnings of autobiographical writing in English we come 
inevitably to Montaigne. A blend of the didactic and the pictur- 
esque; a wish to please salted with a slight tang of superiority: that 
became, as soon as our habit of self-examination had borne fruit, the 
stamp of a typical apologia. Since personality as such was not con- 
sidered of much interest until comparatively recent times, the imagina- 
tion, when it sought to express a truth about some personal matter, 
wrapped it up in an essay. Neither Bacon nor Addison, Johnson nor 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

Pope, would have thought it seemly to write explicitly about them- 
selves: yet through their prose or their verse the beat of a human heart 
can be detected -beating to a different rhythm in each case. 

An essential fact had already been established by the end of the 
eighteenth century: that it is not the events of a human life which 
make good autobiography but the distillation of human spirit gathered 
from the mere passing of time. It was quite natural for Pepys to set 
down the evidence against himself in cipher. To write frankly about 
the peccadilloes of a single person and that person oneself was in 
the highest degree unseemly. What could be asserted from the pulpit 
against all humanity was perfectly proper, since humanity was known 
to be sinful and wretched. To use the same accusing voice against 
oneself was unthinkable; it required a code and an exculpatory- 
tenderness towards vices which must somehow be presented even 
though the writer were the only audience as charming weaknesses. 
It is only nowadays that the blacker the picture of a lifetime the louder 
the applause with which it is likely to be acclaimed. 

The discretion, then, of the Augustans, following the struggle to 
survive of the Renaissance, kept the British imagination strictly under 
control until the end of the eighteenth century. There was too much 
on hand for close introspection. The class structure of the country 
was changing as abruptly as its religion; and nobody was encouraged 
to linger over any single aspect of the individual in society. It might 
even be dangerous to do so. A civilization in full flush, or in the 
iridescence of decay, is far more likely to stimulate an introspective 
imagination than one which is climbing briskly towards its zenith. 
One would not expect, for instance, to find Turgenev's A Sportsman s 
Sketches being written in Soviet Russia. And this not because of their 
theme, their leisurely liberalism, but because societies which are 
thrusting forward have small time for individuals, unless the individual 
exactly represents the point of view of the crowd. 

With the rise of the Romantics this discretion was abruptly broken. 
Again, perhaps, it was a foreign source which nourished a totally new 
manner of writing about the personal life: this time, Goethe's Dichtung 
und Wahrheit. It was a manner which produced at least one master- 
piece in English, Ruskin's Praeterita. And it marks the end of objec- 
tivity in autobiographical writing. 

For a distinction was still very clear between an autobiography and a 



THE WHOLE MAN 

diary. Things could be noted in a private journal which were still 
impractical in print. A published book set out to impose a persona on 
the public: something not too wide of the mark but, please Heaven, 
not too close either. Inevitably every autobiography is an essay in 
omission; but until the past thirty years the rules of the game were at 
any rate discernible: it was right to say not as much as a writer dared 
but as little. He could set the lights so as to show his own profile as 
advantageously as possible; he could linger over some improving 
reflections; he could digress into anecdote a little way only. The rest 
had to be noted down in secret: hence the existence of Southey's 
Commonplace Books or such curiosa as the unpublished journal of 
John Addington Symonds. Either too diffuse or too painfully par- 
ticular for the persona to acknowledge, they kept their satisfactions 
purely for private use. 

This had the somewhat paradoxical effect that writers were likely 
to be much more effective as biographers than as autobiographers. 
For already a thirst for information about human beings was abroad. 
Readers were barely content with a persona; they wanted the full man. 
And that was something from which the imagination flinched. A good 
example is the difference between Sir Edward Marsh's picture of him- 
self as a lively Edwardian in A Number of People and Mr. Christopher 
HassalTs evaluation of the same evidence from without. Marsh, writing 
in his own person, does little more than put together a stirabout of 
little stories from which no precise image of a human being can be 
extracted. From the same material, however, Mr. Hassall has painted 
a careful portrait. The difference is that Marsh belonged in spirit to an 
age which could not unfetter the imagination when it came to self- 
portraiture, whereas Mr. Hassall is of a generation which has not only 
been allowed but compelled to speak out. 

The turning point came after the First World War. Such books as 
Goodbye to All That and Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man may seem less 
frank today than they did thirty years ago, but at least they put forward 
no persona: they set down a personal vision in exact terms of remem- 
bered reality. It may be that a world still free but profoundly shaken 
perceived for the first time even if only half-consciously that the 
concept of freedom was inseparable from the concept of the individuaL 
Whatever gave an individual his identity therefore acquired a new 
value, even if it broke through accustomed standards of reticence. 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

We were learning from Viennese savants that the human race is very 
rum indeed; and ordinary observation readily confirmed their findings. 
Those writers who tried to stand aside from the quiddity of their 
fellows came to seem both false and dull. That is why the memoirs 
of public men generals, politicians, and the like strike the imagina- 
tion so flaccidly. Alone among writers they still try to put forward a 
persona instead of a human being, so that interest is limited exclusively 
to the events which they describe, and never (or hardly ever) to the 
writer himself. 

There is, however, one rider to this. All too often the events of public 
life are interesting, while the reactions of the private individual are not. 
There is thus a real danger that the subjective maundering of a trained 
and sensitive writer may be over-praised only because he has a certain 
gift for evocation. In varying degrees this is a quality which flaws, by 
its smooth facility, many of the autobiographies of contemporary 
writers. Almost alone Mr. William Plomer has escaped. His two 
volumes, Double Lives and At Home, stand out above a level plain of 
other poets* attractive and sympathetic prose because he wears the 
armour of his own discretion so supply and naturally. Others have been 
less wise. Either, like Mr. John Lehmann in The Whispering Gallery and 
I am my Brother, they have, as it were, folded away their personality 
and laid it in clean tissue paper, so that all we see is a neat package, 
uncreased, white, and crisp, from which the dust and wear of humanity 
have been excluded; or, like Mr. Stephen Spender, in World within 
World, they offer us tantalizing glimpses of a personal reality so deeply 
enclosed in general reflections that it never shines through entire; or, 
like Mr. Cecil Day Lewis, in The Buried Day, they submerge their own 
identity under a golden sense of the past. In each case what we get is 
all amber, and no fly. 

A possible reason for this is the modes of social change through 
which Great Britain has been passing in the past forty years. They may 
have been benign, but they have been deeply confusing to the middle 
ranges of society from which writers are chiefly drawn. For, in spite of 
all prognostications, the final result of these changes operated in 
cross-rhythms and at speeds so different that no timetable has ever 
been established has been to leave the extremities of society much 
where they were in 1918: the very poor are far less numerous, but 
those who survive are still very poor; and as much can be said of the 



THE WHOLE MAN 

very fortunate, either through birth or money. In between, however, 
the relative positions of the ordinary citizen have changed with 
bewildering rapidity: a fact in itself sufficient to account for the high 
content of nostalgia in the air. Those who see the past through a soft 
haze like the background of a portrait by the Edwardian photo- 
grapher, Alice Hughes cannot bear to part with it, even though they 
are unable to pass it on to their children. 

It is significant that perhaps the most exquisite of all nostalgic auto- 
biographies, Mr. Sacheverell SitwelTs AH Summer in a Day, was 
written at a slightly earlier period, when nostalgia could still be purely 
aesthetic. Nowadays the kind of past conjured up in those pages would 
need explanation and comment: a fact clearly perceived by Sir Osbert 
Sitwell when he came to write his own monumental Left Hand, Right 
Hand, which covers, in part, the same ground. By comparison with 
All Summer in a Day, Mr. Julian Fane's delightful Morning, written 
many years later, seems much more remote, only because it is com- 
posed out of a tower which, if still feudal, is now made of ivory. 

Not unnaturally a sharp eye and a pointed nib accord with our 
brittle modern world. Writers with a biting edge to them have 
written good autobiographies because they had no special wish to 
establish their own identity: what amused them was to touch off a few 
Bengal lights, in order to throw a rare glow on the circumstances 
round them. Mr. Maclaren-Ross is a good example: also Mr. Arthur 
Calder-Marshall. If good nature constantly breaks through, there is a 
welcome note of satire in such books, as in E. M. Butler's Paper 
Boats. 

It is not, however, the purpose here to make a list of names and 
book-titles, but rather to seek a thread which may guide us through 
the complexities of an age which loves to observe itself but has little 
sense of focus. For one thing the distinction between an autobiography 
and a journal is now erased: elsewhere more cavalierly than in England. 
We have as yet no Maurice Sachs, no Malaparte; but already the 
demarcation between fact and fancy is blurred among those of our 
writers who write of themselves. We understand both too much and 
too little about ourselves to write in tranquillity. Since we can look 
knowing over Kilvert or Augustus Hare, pinning a label here or there, 
we dare not run the risks they took unwittingly. And so something 
from the diary is dredged up to give spice to die autobiography; but 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

in the end there is always a reserve; and the work of art suffers 
accordingly. 

It may be that people tend to write such books too soon. Certainly 
the elders, like Air. Somerset Maugham or Gwen Raverat, have been 
more successful than their juniors in saying what they wished to say 
and no more. Their autobiographical writing leaves no sense of some- 
thing left unsaid. Likewise some very young men have managed to 
convey a natural innocence combined with a keenness of scent in the 
hunt after life, which promised the highest satisfactions had they only 
been spared to finish their work: Alun Lewis, Dylan Thomas, Denton 
Welch, among them: each pursued by an unhappy fatality. Since they 
died young, their names have been surrounded by a romantic glow; 
but under the romanticism there is a solid weight of achievement. In 
particular, the work of Denton Welch deserves more acclaim than it 
has received in the years since his death; for no one better than he has 
managed to blend the intimacy of a diary with the detachment of an 
analyst. 

The weakness of much modern autobiography in this country is, 
nevertheless, inseparable from work such as this. It amounts to a strain 
of cosiness, of excessive sensibility. Here again the fault lies with our 
society rather than with the individuals of which it is composed. We 
have been told by Jimmy Porter that there are no causes left to fight for, 
and although this is at best a half-truth there is a painful disparity 
between the personal scope of a modern writer and the immense prob- 
lems by which he is threatened, along with the rest of civilization. Into 
the bargain, British life is undeniably cosy. It does not favour adven- 
tures either of the body or the mind. The kind of intellectual clash 
which made possible Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua seldom recurs; 
and the political tensions which might have led to fascinating personal 
statements have in fact been resolved by other means. Mr. Philip Toyn- 
bee has given some account of himself in relation to his friends, and 
occasionally a writer of the right or the left mainly the former has 
interpolated his own recollections into what is primarily an essay or a 
relation of fact. But we have no Julien Benda, no autobiographer 
chiefly interested in the analysis of ideas. Our memories are cluttered 
with nannies, teas tinder the limes, the sound of bat on ball, and witty 
Oxford conversation. 

We have not even an effective Alfred Kazin or Samuel ChotzinofF 



THE WHOIE MAN 

to offset this by describing life on the wrong side of the tracks, since 
the circumstances of poverty in Great Britain are likely to be grey and 
good-tempered two conditions which make for small liveliness. Mr. 
Colin Wilson, it is true, has written better of himself than of any other 
theme, and may well one day sum up a lifetime in a first-rate auto- 
biography; in any case, the kind of book he might embark on is one 
which is at present to seek: not cosy, not too comfortably meditative, 
not nostalgic, but positive and frank, and unembarrassed. What we 
have, meantime, is at least of high entertainment value, since auto- 
biography, in some form, creeps into every kind of book from travel- 
writing to political manifestos. And we can at least be grateful for 
being entertained. 



RELIGION 



The Reticent Faith 



Mr, Kernan added: 

Tlie service of the Irish church, used in Mount Jerome, is simpler, 
more impressive, I must say. 

Mr. Bloom gave prudent assent. The language of course was another 
tiling. 

Mr. Kernan said with solemnity: 

I am the resurrection and the life. That touches a man's inmost heart. 

It does, Mr. Bloom said 



So much turns on Bloom's reservation on whether the words of 
the Anglican liturgy are indeed another thing, or whether the 
web of language and life is single and seamless. Bloom appeases 
his teased Roman conscience by isolating the aesthetic experience; he 
goes on silently to wonder how the words can touch 'the fellow in the 
six feet by two with his toes to the daisies*. He is not one of those for 
whom phrases like the kindly fruits of the earth are features of an inner 
landscape, scarcely verbal, certainly not quoted words, not words in 
inverted commas. 

Bloom coaxes forward for our inspection that strangely simple con- 
tinuity of feeling in which I am the resurrection and the life has been 
found at once beautiful and true; he exposes a fact of English, literature 
(as of English life) which works in hidden ways and is often misinter- 
preted. The individual who feels the received verbal form to be 
sufficient will naturally rest upon it, and this reclining is easily taken 
for complacency; while the absence of overt preoccupation with 
religion points, apparently, to a national and rather gross indifference. 

English reticence about religion since the seventeenth century is not, 

8 



THE RETICENT FAITH 

even so, a straightforward affair of the Authorized Version and the 
Book of Common Prayer. The problem of a dead patch in sensibility 
cannot be merely swept aside; there are real embarrassments; there is 
the religious inanity of our greatest novelist. Dickens never voiced a 
thought about religion that was not coarse or crass or religiose. Or (to 
be fair) critical: his destructive energy is impressive; the cold church 
in Dombey, the ritual humbug following Mrs. Gargery's death, the 
compelled, uncomprehending children. Mr. Chadband will do but 
not the Christmasy people. Not the exclamation. Not the canny vox 
humana of dying to the Lord's Prayer. 

And so with Thackeray's criticism. Is there a neater or juster touch 
in all his fiction than the pause for refreshment by the undertaker's men 
after Pitt Crawley's funeral? Their sitting at ease, pewter pots flashing 
in the sun, unites a rare and welcome economy with the tart joy of 
Thackeray at full strength and stretch. But on the positive side one 
can only say that Thackeray is seldom Christmasy. In fact, and to 
generalize, there is very little to be learnt about religious emotion in 
the English novel, except from the women writers. 

More than other people, perhaps, we have suffered a self-ahenating 
bewilderment through the Reformation, a loss of touch which makes 
a stranger of the past. Matthew Arnold's reasons for thinking that 
Chaucer lacked high seriousness were not just Victorian and transient. 
(What would Chaucer have said about the eternal not-ourselves that 
makes for righteousness?) And more than other people we have ad- 
mitted a cramping censorship, often self-censorship. If Doctor Johnson 
had built a poem out of the thought that we shall receive no letters in 
the grave, our religious literature would be richer than it is. His 
reasons for thinking that a man ought not to give written expression 
(unless in Latin) to such doubts and fears as his friends used to find him 
entertaining alone before the fire, were Augustan, of course, but more 
widely English too. 

The English Romantic poets, especially Wordsworth in his youth, 
caused the idea of Christian nature poetry to appear quite unnecessarily 
paradoxical. To say that we find our joy here, on this green earth, or 
not at all, was a terrific heresy which the textbooks, peacemakers that 
they are, do their best to minimize, but which some distinguished 
Christian writers have felt keenly and with a distressing sense of separ- 
ation from great imaginative discoveries; too much of what the 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

Romantics said was beautifully false, and writing about the natural 
object under their shadow has often meant the management of an 
uncomfortable love-hate relationship. Only Christina Rossetti and 
Hopkins have been very memorably undismayed. 

Mr. Eliot, like Messrs. Bloom and Kernan, has surveyed the English 
religious scene from outside before he decided to come along in. 
The advantage conferred by this two-eyed stance of his can scarcely be 
exaggerated. It is relatively easy for him, once inside, not to sound 
parochial; while he also escapes a subtler and connected danger, which 
is that the contemporary statement made pointedly from within the 
Church of England may find, without meaning to, two audiences. 
Consider the double response to Mr. Betjeman. To those outside and 
it must have been largely to them that his collected poems were selling 
a thousand copies a week not long ago his talent strikes altogether 
happy; they go to him for period charm and the flavour of harmless, 
outlandish practices. 

But those within find the characteristic evocations next door too 
sad: 

How warm the many candles shine 
On SAMUEL DOWBIGGM'S design 

For this interior neat, 
These high box pews of Georgian days 
Which screen us from the public gaze 

When we make answer meet; 
How gracefully their shadow falls 

On bold pilasters down the walls 

And on the pulpit high. 
The chandeliers would twinkle gold 
As pre-Tractarian sermons rolTd 

Doctrinal, sound and dry. 

For them, the questions artfully delayed until the final stanza are 
importunate throughout : 

And must that plaintive bell in vain 
Plead loud along the dripping lane? 
And must the building fall? 

Finding the money to restore the Church of St. Katherine, Chisel- 

10 



THE RETICENT FAITH 

liampton, Oxon (the occasion of this poem), is, as Mr. Betjeman might 
say, no joke; the situation is at odds with his spry verses, as happens so 
often in his work. And to nurse the memory of better days proves a 
painful exercise of the historical sense painful and perhaps Hi-omened, 
a sign of failing old age, like the advertisements which are appearing 
at this moment to tell the drinkers at home, the television-watchers, 
what nice, traditional places pubs are, how worth supporting. 

Mr. Eliot's apprehension of Anglicanism is a complex triumph, in 
which we are concerned to isolate the simple authority of foreignness. 
To say that an Englishman born could not have written Four Quartets 
is to do more than to make an obvious point about literary stature in 
our time; for while Mr. Eliot's pronouncing upon the tradition would 
have failed absurdly were he not a major poet, the pronouncement 
itself, his manner of defining this task and of addressing himself to it, 
proceeds from a careful, prolonged scrutiny, initiaEy ab extra, of a 
society and a civilization. The observant stranger is in evidence here as 
he is (to compare great things with small) in Mr. Eliot's quaintly lucid 
elevation of the rite of Music Hall. 

It is also true that his way of speaking advisedly, his grapplings with a 
stated religious theme, set him over against a dominant English con- 
tentment with half-knowledge against Hamlet's 'Let be' and the 
absence of intellectual forcing which, while it largely determines the 
central and characteristic within Shakespeare's variety, also makes him 
our most English writer. National genius, as well as national prejudice, 
sustains Keats's outburst against poetry which has a design on us; and 
this helps to explain why the attempt to separate for discussion a 
religious strand in the English imagination is likely to succeed only 
when success is not very important. 

Here is one way in which our contemporary literature is constantly 
being misvalued. The foreign students who press forward at university 
summer schools with observations and questions about the religion 
of 'Gram Grin' seldom allow themselves to wonder whether the 
Catholic dilemma which Mr. Greene manages so expertly and so 
often is really the most interesting thing about his fiction. They have 
their hands round the theme which he has poked out in front of his 
narrative, and they will not be cheated of what ought to be, inter- 
nationally, a most serious valuation. But when the authentic voice 
sounds through the twaddle of Pericles with * A terrible childbed hast 

ii 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

thou had, my dear', there can be no distinguishing (any more than 
there can be denying) of religious fear and reverence within the 
humanity that contemplates this single fate. Nor are the frequent 
critical dissections justified when in Macbeth, say the working of an 
instructed Christian conscience is apparent throughout: Shakespeare's 
religion is still not a subject. 

The problem of inextricability is primarily but not solely Shake- 
spearian; indeed we meet it once in the twentieth century. D. H. 
Lawrence thought of himself as a religious man, which has less to do 
with a youth of hymn-singing and chapel-going than with the mood 
and the mature achievement of his speaking up for life. Out of context 
this is vague, of course. But so is : 

And for all this, nature is never spent; 
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things 

which becomes intimate, in the work of art, with the Christian pre- 
cision of the great Jesuit poet. The result of discussing Lawrence's 
speaking up for life would be to expose the fact of stature, and so to 
bring him closer to Hopkins and farther from the best of his contem- 
poraries, Virginia Woolf and Mr. Forster. The end, then, is silence, 
for a critical address which does its best to square up to religion will 
fail for lack of relevant documentation in the work of living creative 
writers. We distinguish Mr. Eliot; but Mr. Eliot, we say, is a special 
case, as he is a special Englishman. 



FICTION i 



The Workaday World that the Novelist 
Never Enters 



In his essay on Dickens, George Orwell remarks casually that 'hi 
Dickens's novels anything in the nature of work happens off- 
stage', and he might have gone on to say that what is true of 
Dickens is true in a lesser degree of almost all British novelists. From 
Trollope to Thackeray, Hardy to Huxley, Wells to Waugh our 
novelists have been conspicuously reticent in showing their characters 
at work, particularly when that work was in the nature of manual 
labour. They have, of course, told us that they were working: that is 
quite another thing. The difference can be pointed neatly by consider- 
ing the range of occupations followed by Augie March in Saul Bellow's 
novel. Newspaper boy, Christmas extra in a toy department, flower 
shop assistant, agent and companion to a paralysed estate agent and 
pool-room owner, salesman for women's shoes, model for riding 
habits in a saddle shop, trade union organizer, trainer of eagles: we are 
not yet half-way through, and what is remarkable is that Mr. Bellow 
does not stop at telling us that Augie March followed these occupations, 
but shows him working at them, with all the conviction of apparent 
knowledge. 

The truth is that most English novelists are educated in a way that 
precludes any wide range of practical experience. They do not work 
their way through public schools, as many Americans work their way 
through college. Many of them never do a day's work in their lives 
(except in wartime) which brings them into close touch with people of 
a class outside their own; and those novelists who come from the 

13 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

working class emancipate themselves from it as quickly as possible, 
using their youthful experiences only as material for comment or 
recollection, never transcribing them in the direct unsentimental way 
of Mr. Bellow and half a dozen other American novelists. The idea of 
class distinctions remains the most important single factor in the 
modern English novel, and even those who imagine themselves un- 
affected by its subtleties make assumptions about the nature of society 
that would seem strange to the people of any other country. The myth 
of the gamekeeper and Lady Chatterley, of earthy virility and upper- 
class sexual unfulfilment runs, in some way or another, through a great 
deal of modern English fiction. Work is something of which our 
novelists are ignorant, or which they do not choose to write about, so 
that books like Mr. Nigel Balchin's The Small Back Room or Mr. Roy 
Fuller's Image of a Society, which show in detail the operations of a 
wartime scientific unit and of a building society, are honourable rarities. 
The things our novelists know about are the grades and subtleties and 
shirts of society. They tend to see their own natures, and all human 
relationships, in this context, with a special emphasis on childhood 
which leads them towards fantasies of guilt and innocence. 

The two outstanding fictional achievements of the past few years, 
not merely in their bulk but in their nature, have been the series of 
novels associated with the names of C. P. Snow and Anthony Powell. 
Both are primarily interesting as examinations of English social struc- 
ture, although this may have been no more than a part of the novelists' 
intentions. In an explanatory preface to The Conscience of the Rich C. P. 
Snow says: 

Obviously, through the entire work there is an attempt to give some 
insights into society: diose have been better understood than I expected 
when I began. Nevertheless, the inner design has always lain elsewhere 
at any rate for me, and I cannot speak for anyone else. It consists of a reson- 
ance between what Lewis Eliot sees and what he feels . . . Lewis in The 
Conscience of the Rich observes both the love of power and the renunciation 
of power. He observes these again, at various levels, in The Masters, The 
Light and the Dark and The New Men. In Time of Hope, Homecomings, and 
a later book he goes through those experiences himself. 

One is safe in saying that only a small percentage of C. P. Snow's 
readers have apprehended this central design, and that only a fraction 

14 



THE WORKADAY WORLD THAT THE NOVELIST NEVER ENTERS 

of this small percentage find it significant. The prime importance of 
the Strangers and Brothers series is surely its loving concern with bureau- 
cratic man. The plots of The Masters and The Affair deal with the 
decisions to be taken by dons at a Cambridge college about, in the 
first case the election of a new Master and in the second the expulsion 
of a Fellow; The New Men is much concerned with departmental 
argument and internecine warfare between the scientists working on 
the development of the atomic bomb and the administrators handling 
the project; similar problems appear in the background of other books. 
It is plain that the whole atmosphere and procedure of jockeying for 
power holds a fascination for Snow. His lobbyists are always calcu- 
lating votes and possibilities. 'Nightingale can't cross over again . . . 
you're also counting on Gay, but I set him off against Pilbrow*. The 
New Men, and part of Time of Hope, show the dangers of generaliza- 
tion, for the first gives a brilliant picture of the attempts to make the 
atomic pile work, and the second suggests admirably the atmosphere 
of life in a barrister's chambers. Here, undoubtedly, is an English 
novelist writing from the inside of men at work, but they are in both 
cases technicians, of science and the law, and they do not really provide 
exceptions to the rule that our novelists never deal from the inside 
with ordinary working-class occupations. 

The five volumes so far published of Mr. Powell's The Music of Time 
examine with the most delicate care a small section of upper-class and 
Bohemian society (C. P. Snow's characters are as limited as Mr. 
Powell's, rarely ranging far outside civil servants, dons and scientists) 
in the years between the wars. The pleasure that English writers take in 
recollections of childhood and youth has already been mentioned, and 
the first volume in the series, A Question of Upbringing, looked on its 
publication deceptively like a dozen other books about public school 
life. Mr. Powell's purpose, like C P. Snow's, was only gradually 
shown, and perhaps has not even yet been fully revealed. The sort of 
pleasure found by English readers in these books is probably not fully 
communicable to those unsoaked in the mores of our social life. As 
nearly as one can convey this pleasure, it rests in our enjoyment of the 
skill with which Mr. Powell conveys the strict limits of class feeling 
in society, and at the same time suggests the ways in which those limits 
are continually being extended and flouted. The incursion of a Wid- 
merpool into the lives of the Stringhams and the Gorings and the 

15 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

Walpole- Wilsons, for example, is wonderfully significant of the 
changing form of society, and also a portent of the Widmerpudlian 
wrath to come. . . . But explanations are altogether inadequate and 
Mr. Powell, even more than C. P. Snow, is likely to remain primarily 
a writer for English readers. 

Social distinctions, childhood, fantasy: these are the things that make 
most of our novelists put pen to paper. Among them one includes our 
women novelists, and it is a sad truth that we have no women writers 
comparable in wit and intelligence with Miss Mary McCarthy, or in 
real sensibility with Miss Carson McCullers. What one seems to see in 
looking at a dozen known and respected figures is one quintessential 
lady novelist, who tricks out an unvarying sentimentality of approach 
with all sorts of emotional ingenuities, so that a work by nature des- 
tined for the glossy magazines receives instead, or also, the accolade of 
the Book Society. From this general stricture the novels of Miss 
Compton-Burnett must certainly be excepted; but, witty and delight- 
ful as these extraordinary books are, they do appear to be rather too 
much like one another. 'I do not feel that I have any real or organic 
knowledge of life later than 1910,* Miss Compton-Burnett has said 
herself, and it sometimes seems that she has been content to stop at an 
even earlier point in time than that, and at that point to write over and 
over again her book about the skeleton of murder or adultery or 
incest in the family cupboard. 

Among those who have most successfully explored our national 
concern with childhood and fantasy is Mr. William Golding. Lord of 
the Flies, his first book, blended the two : children are shipwrecked on 
an island, and what begins as Stevensonian romance ends as a tale of 
horror. This is the sort of thing that we have always been good at. 
George Orwell's Animal Farm also takes as its starting point a vision of 
innocence and shows the slow corruption of that innocence by human 
wickedness and social circumstance; and Orwell's social and moral 
fable, like Mr. Golding's, is perfectly contained within a story so simple 
that it seems really to be written for children. (And in fact children who 
know nothing of the Soviet Union have wept at the fate of Boxer.) 
Lord of the Flies was a perfect book in its way, certainly one of the most 
successful pieces of imaginative fiction in recent years. In his later books, 
Pincher Martin and Free Fall, theme and moral are not so happily fused: 
but Mr. Golding is a writer truly obsessed by moral problems, one of 

16 



THE WORKADAY WORLD THAT THE NOVELIST NEVER ENTERS 

the very few contemporary novelists who seem capable of producing a 
work of greatness rather than of talent. 

The sort of innocent release that Orwell looked for in the world of 
childhood (Winston Smith's dream of rebellion in Nineteen Eighty- 
Four is finally destroyed by a nursery rhyme) has been the distantly 
seen objective of several other writers. Childhood is not only a time of 
innocence but also of unblunted sensibility, and it is this sensibility that 
many recent novelists have found interesting. It would be wrong to 
think of this as merely escapism, although it must be considered as a 
denial or a by-passing of the 'real' world in which most people go out 
of a small box in the morning into another box where they work all 
day before returning to their box-home in the evening, there to watch, 
many of them, a fantasy life being pursued in a box smaller still. Most 
of our novelists are reluctant to write about this world, whether in 
realistic terms or symbolically and they criticize it only in the sense 
that an escaping prisoner is criticizing the penal system. 

Childhood and fantasy are refugees, undoubtedly for Mr. L. P. 
Hartley in his best books, for Mr. William Sansom in his comic and 
terrifying stories, for Mr. Mervyn Peake in his very curious Gormen- 
ghast books, and at times for Miss Oh" via Manning, Miss Elizabeth 
Bo wen, Mr. P. H. Newby, Mr. Rex Warner: but they are also, of 
course, consciously used as the material for creating works of art. Such 
an art may be exquisite, but it must be also, except in the hands of a 
really great artist, very limited. Those who look for some approach to 
the problems of our time more direct than that made by our fantasists 
and recallers of childhood, and less narrow than those made by C. P. 
Snow or Anthony Powell, some native equivalent of Augie March, 
will be disappointed. Our novelists do indeed make a social approach 
to comedy, but it is not of this kind, and probably the only living 
British novelists who set out to present a realistic picture of the world 
we are living in are Mr. Angus Wilson and one or two crime novelists, 
in particular Mr. Graham Greene. 

It is with no disobliging ironical intention that one puts Graham 
Greene among writers of crime novels, but, rather to indicate the 
way in which the 'crime novel' and the 'novel proper* have tended to 
merge together in the past decade, and to suggest that, so far as any dis- 
tinction between them should now be made, the violence of the 'crime 
novel' has a peculiar appropriateness to the contemporary world. It is 

c 17 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

true, of course, that the novelist must feel this violence it must be 
emotionally important to him, not a mere detail of the plot: and it is 
in this sense that one calls Mr. Greene a crime novelist, as one calls Dos- 
toevsky a crime novelist. Books like The Confidential Agent, Brighton 
Rock, The Ministry of Fear, The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana, 
are using the apparatus of the crime novel or the thriller for serious 
purposes, and even such a book as The Power and the Glory employs that 
classical technique of hunter and hunted which has been one of the 
features of the crime story since Godwin. The fact that all Mr. Greene's 
books are entertaining and that he calls some of them entertainments 
should not blind anybody to the seriousness that is always showing 
through. What Graham Greene has done is to carry out in fiction that 
precept of Mr. Eliot's in relation to poetic drama that it should take 
place on two levels. 

The indispensable merit of a verse play is that it shall be interesting, that it 
shall hold the audience all the time. And it will not do that if the audience 
is expected to do too much of the work. . . . The interest should be one 
interest throughout, not merely a succession of interests, or of momentary 
surprises. The play should have form: it needs more form than an ordinary 
conversation piece; it must have 'dramatic form' and also the musical pat- 
tern which can be obtained only by verse; and the two forms must be one. 

What Mr. Greene has done is analogous to what is suggested here. 
He is, like Mr. Eliot, a writer with several messages to deliver: about 
Roman Catholicism, about the forms of society and the nature of man. 
How can one convey a message about the truths of Catholicism in 
ways that will interest non-Catholics? The form of the crime novel has 
provided an answer that all who run may read. The best of his books 
have the excitement of those written by, say, Mr. Eric Ambler, and 
they may be read simply upon this level: but interwoven with the 
excitement are the truths that Mr. Greene has it in him to utter, and 
the interest is 'one interest throughout'. 

Mr. Angus Wilson, by contrast, approaches the novel with the 
realism that one might expect from an admirer of Zola, a realism of 
which he is the only serious exponent, now that Mr. Alex Comfort has 
been silent as a novelist for so long that one regretfully supposes the 
silence permanent. Mr. Wilson's best novel remains his first, Hemlock 
and After, a powerful unorderly novel about the moral fragmentation 

18 



THE WORKADAY WORLD THAT THE NOVELIST NEVER ENTERS 

of post-war society, exemplified by the collapse of a literary pillar who 
has become a homosexual. Chaotic, and even at times ridiculous as 
in the portraits of the working-class homosexuals and of the procuress 
Mrs. Curry the book is nevertheless, like the later Anglo-Saxon 
Attitudes, extraordinarily impressive as a whole. The intention is 
realistic, the result often wildly exaggerated, rather as though Zola's 
realism had been rolled up with the melodrama of Dickens, and the 
whole thing given a strange gamey flavour of Mr. Wilson's own. 

One ends where one began, with regret that our novelists find it so 
difficult to show convincingly the details of ordinary Hves. In a sense 
all our writers evade this, and the reality they picture is the sum of such 
evasions. It would be too puritanical, too much like a call for the 
dreariest sort of social realism, to leave it at that, but it is certainly true 
that the subject-matter of our best novelists in recent years, and their 
attitude towards it, has been too narrowly literary. It seems likely that 
Mr. Greene and Air. Wilson, rather than the other writers mentioned 
here, are guides towards the novel's future development in this country. 
It is likely to be inclusive rather than exclusive, to welcome the new 
features of society rather than to ignore them. Not less art, but more 
life, is what the novel chiefly needs today. 



19 



FICTION 2 



The Uses of Comic Vision 



It is, and lias been for a long time, the most prized of our national 
possessions: a sense of humour. How much and how often we 
congratulate ourselves upon it: what a stay it has been to us 
throughout two wars, how it alleviated the coming of rationing and 
the dropping of bombs, how since the war it has enabled us to look 
with tolerance on the diminishment of Empire and the encroachments 
of the welfare state. A modern educated Briton will be ready to smile 
at the description of him as a colonialist or a has-been, a communist 
or a reactionary, and he is likely to remain complacent under the 
suggestion that the nation he belongs to is a second-class power: but 
it will be unwise to suggest to "him that he lacks a sense of humour. 
Those are fighting words. 

Such a national characteristic is bound to spill over into literature, 
and the most striking difference between the British and the American 
novel over the past half-century is the comic approach (including 
satire and irony within the category) made by British novelists, com- 
pared with their American counterparts. Compare H. G. Wells, 
Aldous Huxley, Graham Greene all of them writers using the form 
of the novel to convey a message about society with Dreiser, Sinclair 
Lewis, Norman Mailer, and it is immediately apparent that for the 
Americans humour is superimposed, where for the British writer it is 
a natural medium of expression. By and large (with important excep- 
tions like D. H. Lawrence, George Orwell and C. P. Snow), it is 
through humour, using the word in the broad sense that we employ 
when congratulating ourselves on the depth and variety of our own 
sense of humour, that the British imagination has found its character- 



20 



THE USES OF COMIC VISION 

istic form in the modern novel. It is this vehicle of humour that many 
of our novelists have chosen through the past half-century to express 
their social feelings, or their attitude towards a moral situation. 

What a distance there is, on the face of it, between the humour of 
Wells and that of Huxley. Wells w r as a nineteenth-century liberal who 
knew that the ideas he believed in must inevitably triumph: who 
charted for us, as though the maps seen in his mind's eye were reality, 
that world of asepsis and universal birth control in which progressive 
scientists worked to create a world state run by enlightened men very 
much like H. G. Wells. The humour of Kipps, Mr. Polly, Tono- 
Bungay, and the other books of Wells's finest period, sprang from love 
and optimism. Wells had no doubt that the descendants of the lower 
middle class from which he sprang, and which he viewed with such 
a lovingly humorous eye, were destined to inherit the world state. 
Such an attitude could not, for the young, survive the First World 
War, and, as Orwell said, after 1920 Wells did not reaEy understand 
the sort of world he was living in, but 'squandered his talents in killing 
paper dragons*. Nothing wears worse than humour which is too 
perfectly of its time, and the faintly self-congratulatory air with which 
Wells viewed his Little Man heroes has seemed to later generations 
uncommonly near to smugness. Perhaps a certain sort of smugness is 
inseparable from optimism. 

It is commonly said that Aldous Huxley's early novels are satires, 
and on the evidence of Antic Hay and Those Barren Leaves G. K. Ches- 
terton compared Huxley to Swift. Yet what Huxley has to offer us 
in these books is not the moral indignation of one who feels himself 
detached from the attitudes he is describing but an ironical view of the 
nature of man and the end of human aspiration, in which the narrator 
is himself involved. The characters who move in the beautifully stylized 
world of Antic Hay and Those Barren Leaves, Gumbril and Mrs. Viveash, 
Lypiatt and Mercaptan, Calamy and Chelifer and Cardan, are viewed 
as part of a wry, sad human comedy. In place of Wells's insistent 
optimism Mr. Huxley puts an almost equally rigid pessimism. Yet 
beneath the surface differences Wells and Huxley have something 
important in common. In a sense both of these writers use humour in 
much the same way, as an alleviation of a social message which might 
otherwise seem either boring or too plainly parsonical. The use of 
humour in this way is a particularly British habit, so deep-seated that 

21 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

we hardly notice it as unusual. An American novelist wishing to 
criticize advertising, for instance, does so head-on, with moralistic 
violence. How different is the approach made by Mr. Huxley, when 
Mr. Boldero talks to Theodore Gumbril about the best way of adver- 
tising Gumbril's Patent Small-Clothes: 

6 We must make the bank clerk and the civil servant feel proud of being 
what they are and at the same time feel ashamed that, being such splendid 
people, they should have to submit to the indignity of having blistered 
hindquarters. In modern advertising you must flatter your public not in 
the oily, abject, tradesman-like style of the old advertisers, crawling before 
clients who were their social superiors ; that's all over now. It's we who are 
the social superiors because we've got more money than the bank clerks 
and the civil servants. Our modern flattery must be manly, straightforward, 
sincere, the admiration of equal for equal all the more flattering as we 
aren't equals/ Mr. Boldero laid a finger to his nose. 'They're dirt and we're 
capitalists. . . .' He laughed. 

It would be difficult, again, to think of a sort of humour more 
obviously removed from Huxley's over-civilized irony than that of 
Wyndham Lewis's 'soldier of humour', Ker-Orr: 

I am a large blond clown, ever so vaguely reminiscent (in person) of 
William Blake, and some great American boxer whose name I forget. I 
have large strong teeth which I gnash and flash when I laugh. ... I am 
aware that I am a barbarian. By rights I should be paddling about in a 
coracle. My body is large, white and savage. But all the fierceness has 
become transformed into laughter. It still looks like a visi-gothic fighting- 
machine, but it is in reality a laughing machine. ... I simply cannot help 
converting everything into burlesque patterns. And I admit that I am 
disposed to forget that people are real that they are, that is, not subjective 
patterns belonging specifically to me, in the course of this joke-life which 
indeed has for its very principle a denial of the accepted actual. 

For the purpose of rough definition it can be said that Ker-Orr is 
Lewis himself, who, when launching a full-scale attack on the many 
social forces of which he disapproved, did so primarily through the 
medium of humour. The men and women who jerk puppet-like 
through The Apes of God, Tan and the other novels, are intended by 
the barbarian showman first of all to be funny: and it is this, after all, 

22 



THE USES OF COMIC VISION 

that joins Lewis to Huxley, as it joined Huxley and "Wells, this belief 
that the natural way of conveying social attitudes is through humour. 
Perhaps it may be objected that the work even of professional 
humorists, of Jerome K. Jerome, say, or George and Weedon Gros- 
smith, has always some social intention, if we look hard enough for it: 
but the point being made here is that modern British novelists express 
through the use of humour not merely a vague social intention but a 
whole philosophy of life. Changes of social and philosophical stance 
which affect a whole generation are often indicated by changes in a 
novelist's attitude towards his hero. Lucky Jim was recognized immedi- 
ately as a very funny book, but it was seen also to be one of those 
novels which, regardless of their absolute importance, set a tone of 
feeling for a whole decade. It is not fanciful to see in Jim Dixon a 
descendant of Kipps or Mr. Polly or George Ponderevo. Like them he 
is lower middle class and, in a way, proud of it, like them he feels that 
this lower middle class contains the seeds of social virtue: but to suggest 
the similarities is to see at once the yawning differences. George 
Ponderevo's nice observation of the gradations of society at Bladesover 
House would have seemed to Jim Dixon mere acquiescence in an 
established order, and that famous passage at the end of Tono-Bungay 
might almost have qualified for attack in a fellow-lecture to the one 
Dixon gave on Merrie England: 

We tear into the great spaces of the future and the turbines fall to talking 
in unfamiliar tongues. Out to the open we go, to windy freedom and 
trackless ways. Light after light goes down. England and the Kingdom, 
Britain and the Empire, the old prides and the old devotions, glide abeam, 
astern, sink down upon the horizon, pass pass. The river passes London 
passes, England passes. . . . 

Mr. Amis' s lower-middle-class anti-hero has no use either for George 
Ponderevo's sort of revolt against the powers of Bladesover (the chalk- 
ing of a rude word below that 'colossal group of departed Drews as 
sylvan deities, scantily clad' in the saloon would have been more in his 
line) or for his later sentimental socialism. Jim Dixon's purpose in life 
is the preservation of his own integrity. He refuses to be taken in by 
the deceits of social eminence or hard cash, and his clownish, destruc- 
tive energy is devoted wholly to the maintenance of his own equi- 
librium. He regards all social idealism as self-evidently suspect or 

23 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

absurd. The contrast can be pointed further. Wells had no real doubt 
that his lower middle-class heroes were unique. *I don't suppose there 
ever was a chap quite like me before,' Kipps reflects at the end of the 
book that bears his name: but Jim Dixon is aware of his own weakness, 
aware that his attempts to assert 'independence' are mostly secret or 
furtive, matters of voices imitated on the telephone or faces pulled in 
front of the mirror. Jim Dixon's virtues are all negative; he is not a 
money-worm or a culture-grub, he may be trodden down by author- 
ity but he will never be deceived. 

Many American, and other foreign, readers are baffled by the 
importance attached here to Lucky Jim, which they regard as nothing 
more than a fairly engaging bustling farce: and it is a book which 
perfectly exemplifies the insularity of English humour, and its intense 
concern with class. For that matter, it may be true that a good many 
readers in this country will find it difficult to recognize through such 
a comparison of Amis and Wells the Lucky Jim they have enjoyed; and 
it must be confessed that the idea of several critics immediately after 
the book's publication that Jim Dixon was, so to speak, Mr. Amis's 
Ker-Orr, a vehicle for showing up the frauds and hypocrisies of post- 
war cultural Britain and posing against them deliberately the virtues 
of an aggressive nihilism, will not quite stand up to examination. Mr. 
Amis's later books, That Uncertain Feeling and I Like It Here, show him 
as a much more amiable person, and a much less serious writer, than 
his first novel suggested. It was, as it seems now, by chance sympathy 
rather than artistic design that Lucky Jim struck prophetically the true 
note of the 1950$: a genial philistinism both apparent and real, a firm 
distrust of all sorts of merits. 

The sort of thing that was expected from Mr. Amis after Lucky Jim 
has in fact been offered, perhaps, only by Mr. Alan Sillitoe in his novel 
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and his collection of short stories, 
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. The hero of the remarkable 
title story in that collection is a Borstal boy who knows that he can 
easily win the Borstal Cross Country race, but deliberately refuses to 
do so, because victory would put him on the 'wrong* side: 

The pop-eyed potbellied governor said to a pop-eyed potbellied Member 
of Parliament who sat next to his pop-eyed potbellied whore of a wife that 
I was Ms only hope for getting the Borstal Blue Ribbon Prize Cup For 

24 



THE USES OF COMIC VISION 

Long Distance Cross Country Running (All England), which I was, and it 
set me laughing to myself inside, and I didn't say a word to any potbellied 
pop-eyed bastard that might give them real hope, though I knew the 
governor anyway took my quietness to mean he'd got that cup already 
stuck on the bookshelf in his office among the few other mildewed 
trophies. 

It is the part of honesty, as the hero of this story feels it, to show how 
easily lie could have won the race and then to stop deliberately. As he 
expects, he is punislied. 'The governor . . . didn't respect my honesty 
at all; not that I expected Mm to, or tried to explain it to him, but if 
he's supposed to be educated then he should have more or less twigged 
it'. It is this sort of opposition between nihilistic individuals and any 
sort of organized society, between us at the bottom and any kind of 
them at the top, that Mr. Sillitoe observes: and if there is to be a writer 
who will express in literature the 'Leave us Alone' philosophy of 
young people at the beginning of the 19605, Mr. Sillitoe seems at the 
moment the most likely one to do it. 

Humour in English, prose writers is, in fact, never 'pure* as the 
humour of Thurber and Perelman may be called pure; it is always 
making social points. The only purely "humorous novel written by 
Evelyn Waugh is bis first book, Decline and Fall In all the other books 
after that wonderful burst of high spirits humour is deliberately em- 
ployed in the service of Mr. Waugh's conception of social and religious 
order. The Loved One contains in its few pages a damaging criticism of 
American civilization, done wholly through savage comedy; Put Out 
More Flags is implicitly much more than a good joke about the war. 

Or consider such a short story as Angus Wilson's 'Such Darling 
Dodos', in which Tony, an ageing dandyish Catholic homosexual, 
comes after the war's end to visit his wonderfully progressive cousins 
Robin and Priscilla. For years they have triumphed over him emotion- 
ally, secure in their Basque Relief Funds and Popular Fronts and Child 
Psychiatry Clinics, happy in their sympathy with the young. Now 
Robin is dying of cancer, and the two young people who come in for 
a drink after lunch prove to be utterly hostile to his ideas, saying that 
the organization of a rally to feed the Hunger Marchers was rather a 
theatrical approach to a national problem, and that party politics is a 
dirty game anyway. Suddenly Tony realizes that he is, at last, on the 

25 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

side of youth, and he pronounces sentence. 'Poor Robin and Priscilla 
are extinct, I'm afraid. They're dodos really, but such darling dodos.' 
In this unrelievedly bitter story we are spared nothing. Tony is a 
painted clown, the undergraduates are cloddishly obtuse, Robin and 
Priscilla are seen in the full horror of their leather-sandalled, open- 
neck-shirted, cocoa-drinking, high principled tedium. Yet the tone of 
the whole thing, if one disentangles it from the bitterness of the 
message, is undeniably comic. 

Mr. Anthony Powell's fine series of novels called The Music of 
Time is discussed elsewhere in these pages, but it is impossible to end an 
essay about humour in the modern English novel without men- 
tioning these books. Mr. Powell's early novels owed a great deal to 
Mr. Evelyn Waugh, and it is deeply interesting to see how the Powell 
comic style has developed quite away from this early influence, so 
that in The Music of Time series every incident is treated as though it 
were part of a slow-motion film. The famous passage involving the 
pouring of sugar over Widmerpool's head takes almost four pages in 
the telling, and produces on the reader a curious impression of actually 
watching the whole thing happen. It is the extraordinary variety of 
English social comedy, covering as it does this slow-motion technique 
of Anthony Powell's and the more obvious cinematic glitter of 
Graham Greene, the acidity of Angus Wilson and the elegance of 
Evelyn Waugh, the exaggerative comedy of Wyndharn Lewis and 
the self-involved irony of Aldous Huxley, the roughneck knockabout 
of Kingsley Amis and John Wain, that gives one confidence in the 
future use of comedy as a principal medium for expressing the British 
moral and social imagination. 



26 



LITERARY CRITICISM 



Evaluation in Practice 



Over the past few years a number of more or less new lines of 
thought, or points of view, have emerged in current literary 
criticism. Dr. Davie has underlined the interest of syntax, 
Dr. Holloway that of narrative as central to form, Mr. Hough has 
challenged the concept of poetic logic as in radical contrast with prose. 
Mr. Bateson and Miss Helen Gardner have both argued for the rele- 
vance of historical and scholarly knowledge to analysis or comprehen- 
sion of poetry. Professor Kermode has called in question the view that 
a 'dissociation of sensibility' dominated the seventeenth century, and 
Professor Kathleen Tillotson (she must share the distinction with 
Professor Duncan of America) has demonstrated that Donne was by 
no means rescued from universal oblivion or disparagement by Mr. 
Eliot, but had a settled and significant place in the Victorian literary 
vision. 

Again, the first three critics mentioned above have all, though from 
differing standpoints, argued that the period of Pound, Eliot, Joyce and 
the later Yeats is one that has now decisively closed. Two new critical 
periodicals have recently been founded (the Critical Quarterly and the 
Review of English Literature) , and each has indicated its intention to 
move with the times or to be distinct from its predecessors. All in all, 
it is easy to amass evidence that an important critical regrouping has 
taken place, and that a new movement in criticism is under way. 

Such evidence, though, does not convince; less because critics today 
are (like Byron's Whigs in Don Juan) 'exactly where they were', than 
because the true movements in recent criticism have not been abrupt 
and striking, but have operated beneath the surface, and been sustained 

27 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

over a period. That and no other, indeed, is the kind of change which 
ought now to be looked for. Three times in our history, in the periods 
of Dryden, of Wordsworth and Coleridge, and of Eliot and Pound, 
there have been developments in criticism with the appearance of an 
abrupt transition, a comparatively new start. In each case the abrupt 
transition has been elicited by something sharply, even defiantly, new 
in literature itself. But today we do not have that defiant new start in 
literature, and ought not to expect it in criticism. 

At this point, a lead forward may be found in an article on 'Practical 
Criticism', by Mr. Rodway and Mr. Roberts, to which the editor of 
Essays in Criticism gave pride of place in January of 1960. Whole- 
heartedly in defence of 'practical criticism' as it was, the first interest 
of this piece is that it supports the view just now put forward. There is 
no break, criticism still takes its lead from Dr. Richards's work forty, 
or Dr. Leavis's thirty, years ago. 

This is confirmed over again when the two authors write: 'Practical 
criticism amounts to nothing more than reading literature carefully 
and without bias'. To speak thus of one's preference is to feel oneself 
going with a broad tide, and to have lost sight of the alternatives ; for 
who will accept a title of champion for carelessness and bias? The 
argument must be pressed a little farther, to the point of asking what 
kind of care it is which is being deemed appropriate to the reading of 
poetry, and what preconception about the object or the outcome of 
careful reading (for there will doubtless prove to be one) is not being 
called 'bias', because it is not thought to deserve blame. 

Answers to these questions begin to emerge when the writers inquire 
why there should be hostility to practical criticism and reply: 'Perhaps 
archetypal fears of murdering to dissect still haunt the minds of critics 
subconsciously swayed by the Romantic claim that poetry gives access 
to a Higher Reality.' Here may be seen at work one of the paradoxical 
reversals in thought of which history seems fond. If we follow the 
idea of poetic analysis, and of the ideal of poetry which makes poetry 
invite analysis, back into history, it is to this very idea of a 'Higher 
Reality', and not to its antithesis, that we come. We have a hint of this 
even in Mr. Eliot's 1920 essay on Massinger: 'Words perpetually 
juxtaposed in new and sudden combinations' indicated not merely a 
style of composition, but an unrivalled awareness of the world, some- 
thing which 'evidences a very high development of the senses ... a 

28 



EVALUATION IN PRACTICE 

period when the intellect was at the tips of the senses'. Murry's Problem 
of Style of 1921, has a fine account of the metaphorical complexity 
which invites poetic analysis, but this goes with a conviction (explicitly 
from Baudelaire) that such a complexity serves 'the deep significance 
of life'. In Yeats's Symbolism of Poetry of 1900, the manifold inter- 
relatedness and fusion of verse 'evoke indefinable and yet precise 
emotions, or, as I prefer to think, call down among us certain dis- 
embodied powers, whose footsteps over our hearts we call emotions'. 
Mr. Eliot's own progenitors (like Murry's and Yeats's too) were 
French: Gourmont (whose views were not unlike Murry's), Mallarme, 
with his occultist and Platonist leanings, and ultimately Rimbaud, for 
whom the language of poetry, a vehicle of incomparable intricacy and 
inter-relatedness, served 'Higher Reality' indeed: 

trouver une langue . . . cette langue sera de Tame pour Fame, restunant 
tout, parfums, sons, couleurs, da la pensee accrochant la pensee et tirant. 
Le poete definirait la quantite d'inconnueY eveillant en son temps dans 
Tame universelle. 

This historical retrospect serves its purpose, if the completeness and 
symmetry of the movement it reveals bring out how distinctive is 
today's emphasis, where it is thought that there is no emphasis at all, 
merely the plain findings of the unbiased mind. 'Practical criticism' 
today has a strong bias, though it may indeed be a legitimate one. Its 
bias is towards approving tight organization, shrewdly maintained 
vernacular, sustained decorum, metaphors whose distinction, is to be 
exact and telling; and reproving whatever seems vague, strained or 
mystical. 'Over-ingenious symbol-hunting' was the only excess which 
Mr. Rodway and Mr, Roberts felt it necessary to condemn. For Mr. 
Fuller, one of the best of our current reviewer-critics of poetry, loose- 
ness' is among the worst of faults, and 'no poetry can survive unless it 
is grounded in concrete meaning'. (The London Magazine, June 1959.) 
Thesametenden(^,salutaryandperhapsaHttlecramping,isplain enough. 

These opinions have interest for their distinctiveness: not at all for 
their erroneousness, which is not at issue. What is at issue is the empha- 
sis which criticism now enjoys; and from the discussion so far no one 
will find it surprising that practical criticism today takes up what look 
like slips more readily than it explores depths, and condemns more 
often than it enthuses. Again, in view of this, no one will be surprised 

29 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

that Mr. Rodway and Mr. Roberts repeatedly lay stress on how trie 
edge of practical criticism turns itself readily, and notably, against 'all 
forms of debased literature, advertisement, newspapers, etc. . . . the 
method of practical criticism ... is particularly devastating when 
applied to the speeches of politicians and other dignitaries'. These 
claims are just, and the devastation of dignitaries is something to which 
all will warm, at least at times. But that the careful reading of great 
poetry and of them are activities closely related, is a distinctive point 
of view, and a quality of much critical thought in our time. 

Such a movement in practical criticism (away from Yeats's sense of 
complexity, towards and beyond that of Richards) issues from the 
other main preoccupation of the critic today. This may be stated in 
the words of Mr. Lerner, in an article printed in the Critical Quarterly 
of the spring of 1960: 'Literature is a moral concern'. What 
is sometimes overlooked is that this is no innovation, and also no 
rediscovery after a long night of neglect. Throughout the nineteenth 
century, not merely in Arnold but in Carlyle, Ruskin, Patmore, Leslie 
Stephen, James and a succession of others, it was the central and guid- 
ing conviction. In so far as the Aesthetic Movement took another 
course, it was a transient quirk, profoundly alien to what is most 
rooted in our culture; and it has been taken, ever since, as a target for 
shocked and disgusted recrimination. Wilde, in saying 'All art is quite 
immoral', was not rejecting the tradition, but endorsing it. The artist, 
in his view, showed the 'true ethical import* of the facts of life, as 
against what was 'moral' in a blindly conventional and therefore sham 
sense. Even so, the reaction was rapid and vigorous. The key figure 
in it was A. R. Orage, editor of The New Age from 1908. The rugged 
honesty and independence of his work, its sustained conviction of the 
extent of modern decadence, the importance of tradition and free 
intelligence, and the prevalence of literary charlatanism, together with 
its acid, mischievous but endearing irony, make The New Age the 
grandfather of Scrutiny ; and the key idea through Orage's thought 
was also central in that work: to subject style to 'analysis' is nothing 
other than the critic's answer to 'moral decadence' in the writer. A 
continuity stands clearly forth from Arnold's sense of literature as 
indicating 'how to live*, through Orage's word 'instructive', right on 
to Mr. Lerner's qualmless use of 'didactic'. That 'literature is a moral 
concern' is the fruit of a long tradition. 

30 



EVALUATION IN PRACTICE 

Yet to have precision, this maxim must be taken within a whole 
landscape of critical thought; and to register the main features of this 
landscape is again to see something distinctive. This is the convergence, 
today, of the critic and the educationist not simply the teacher of 
literature, but the man preoccupied with education and the value of 
education. There is nothing surprising in this, if one recalls the pro- 
fessions of Matthew Arnold, Dr. Richards, and Dr. Leavis; or the 
growth of higher education in general and the study of literature in 
particular; or the urgent need of a new class of readers to come to 
terms with the serious problems of a rapidly changing society. Nor 
is it meant for disparagement: this is the criticism of a society strenu- 
ously responding to what threatens its health, and drawing upon its 
inherited resources in a concentrated effort to do so. 

But it means that criticism today wears a characteristic look. It pre- 
occupies itself with diagnosing what will help to sustain civilized values, 
or what may contribute to their decay; or what, more directly still, can 
contribute to the work of the teacher. In any list of recent and repre- 
sentative critical books, those of Mr. Raymond Williams, Mr. Richard 
Hoggart, and Professor William Walsh would necessarily be promi- 
nent; and they all bear in this direction. By contrast, of advanced liter- 
ary scholarship such as bears upon criticism, there has in recent years 
been notably little. It is difficult to point to anything in British writing 
quite like the work of Professor Abrams, Professor Curtius, Professor 
Hagstrum, Professor Martz or Professor Tuve in America. Literary 
scholarship, needless to say, exists; but by comparison it does not have 
this seminal quality, this intricate and learned aptness for the critic. 

That this may be a weakness, but not a disabling one, is a fact too 
obvious to warrant amplification. It is better to distinguish how, over 
the decades, a dual conception of the instructiveness, educativeness, 
indeed morality of literature has operated to confuse and also perhaps 
to fertilize criticism. Morality means no one thing, but anything on a 
scale from the do's and don'ts of conventional propriety at one extreme, 
to the deepest sense of life and reality at the other. Education may mean 
the crudest imparting of knowledge, or the crucial awakening of that 
vital sense. These extremes construct a paradigm for criticism. On the 
whole, Richards's Principles pointed towards a sense of the moral 
utility of literature which saw moral health as (though at a high level) 
integration, social normality and conformity. 'The most valuable states 

31 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

of mind are those which involve the widest and most comprehensive 
co-ordination of activities, and the least curtailment, conflict, starvation 
and restriction/ Organization, systematization, the avoidance of waste, 
are ideas central to the book. This, in its turn, leads to an idea of 
maturity' (that key word for those whose concern with literature is a 
moral one) such as is widely relied on in critical discussion today; one 
that Dr. Daiches, for example, employed in a recent and much- 
discussed broadcast on Barrie: the maturity of the average completed 
man, a maturity in essence social, normal, conformist. 

There is another point of view. When Lawrence (in Morality and 
the Novel) wrote: 'morality is that delicate, for ever trembling and 
changing balance between me and my circumambient universe ... by 
life, we mean something that gleams, that has the fourth-dimensional 
quality', he was expressing a vaguer but richer sense of morality. It is 
this sense on which Dr. Leavis drew in his essay on Bunyan, where he 
uses 'mature' in the context of the suggestive and far from obvious 
word 'exultation'; and writes of the close of Part II of The Pilgrim's 
Progress in a way which endorses Bunyan's sense of a truer life behind 
and beyond everyday life, and makes ribbons of a critic who treated 
the passage as mere celebration of social union. 

This distinction between what has been called the 'closed' and the 
'open' in morality, education, maturity (Bergson and St. Paul before 
him have elucidated it) underlies contemporary criticism as its gamut. 
No critic, certainly not those mentioned above, has an unvarying 
place on this scale. But when we read (these quotations are all from 
recent articles) that 'social analysis' is attempted in Timon, or that the 
'final impression of aridness and waste' in Coriolanus 'might well be 
considered a warning against that petrification of humanity which 
occurs when people think only in terms of parties and movements and 
manifestoes 5 , or that 'what Shakespeare is saying in the tragedies is ... 
as follows : there is a natural order which must not be violated' when 
we read these we know that the critic, perhaps with justice in the case 
before him, is far along towards the closed end. On the other hand 
Professor Knights, in his recent book on Shakespeare, says of King 
Lear: 'questioning, disturbance, the absence of demonstrable answers, 
form an essential part of a meaning that lies not in a detachable moral 
but in the activity and wholeness of the imagination.' Here we surely 
see the words of a critic whose original idea of the moral import of 



EVALUATION IN PRACTICE 

literature may indeed have been one for which the concept of 'mean- 
ing' seemed adequate, but who has been driven by his genuine and 
first-hand response to the work in a direction where ultimately it is 
not adequate. Disturbance, activity and wholeness in imagining, are 
so clearly disparate in nature from a 'meaning' in what is imagined, 
that a new start needs to be made, and a new term, to replace 'meaning' 
found. 

Again, Professor Walsh so far confirms the claim that critic and 
educationist have come together as almost to identify the purpose of 
the great creative writer, and the 'good or ideal teacher'. The under- 
taking of the former, he lays down, is 'the tactful and intelligible com- 
munication of life*. Here one may sense a pressure of thought almost 
the opposite of that in Professor Knights's observation. In the idea of a 
'tactful and intelligible' communication of nothing less than 'life* there 
is a certain anomaly and tension. If Lawrence's own 'gleam', his fourth 
dimension, his delicate, for ever trembling and changing balance 
between self and universe are called to mind, then that a writer, big with 
realities of this order, should first and foremost be 'tactful and intelli- 
gible' in the communication of them, is not what most obviously 
suggests itself. Such terms look as if they belong rather to a less evoca- 
tive, pregnant and powerful kind of communication, and a more 
limited one. They would be most naturally germane to the writer 
who communicates analysis, warnings, something which may even 
be summarized after an 'as follows'. Professor Walsh is generally 
inclined to a Lawrentian sense of the great writer's task and opportun- 
ity; but in this passage it seems as if one can detect an incipient 
movement, or at least a proneness to movement, in the other 
direction. 

In the end, to see this distinction between the closed and the open, 
and to sense its operation through our criticism today, is to know that 
at some stage or other a choice has to be made. One conception of the 
relevance of literature to morals must in the end be given primacy, 
even if (since every great work ofiers many things) the other is not 
thereby repudiated out and out. The decisive fact is this: if our deepest 
conviction about the greatest literature is that it is an original force, a 
great vitalizer of life operating at the profoundest level, we must in 
the end recognize a fundamental inadequacy in the whole current 
diction of question and answer, analysis and discrimination, statement 

D 33 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 



and meaning. No thinking in such, categories, However qualified, how- 
ever intensified, will bring thought to a point where it embodies the 
truth that demands embodiment first. To say this, however, is merely 
to throw out a hint; the problem, which remains unsolved, is perhaps 
the major challenge to those preoccupied with criticism today. 



34 



POETRY i 



Signs of an All Too Correct Compassion 



Mr. William Plomer, who looks like a successful business man, 
once let his hair grow a little too long. His barber gently 
reproved him: 'You don't want to look like a poet, sir !* Mr. 
Plomer was half tempted to tell the man that he was a poet, and to 
give him a little lecture. He would say that poetry is what the English 
do best, and so they ought to be more respectful about the people who 
produce it; but, on second thoughts, he refrained. The Englishman who 
is forced, in a strange company, to admit that he is a poet, or to claim 
that he is a poet, will find himself overcome by a strange mixed 
emotion, angry pride blended with awkward shame. The roots of the 
anger and the pride are obvious: the poet is the voice of the tribe, and 
it is infuriating when the tribe think it strange that anybody, other 
than the politician and the journalist, should want to give them a 
voice. The awkward shame comes from the fact that nobody who says 
he is a poet can ever be quite sure that this is true. 

To say that one is a poet is to say that one has written some poems, 
not to say that one has any certainty that one will ever write another 
poem. But can one be sure that one has written some poems? A young 
poet is sure that he has written a poem because, while writing it, he 
felt a great and exhilarating excitement. But the excitement guaran- 
teed only the strength and sincerity of his emotions, not the poetic 
validity of the words he got down on the page. The older poet, like 
any older writer, can shape words with the skill born of practice. He 
feels, often, no excitement; he sees the emotions for which he is creat- 
ing an equivalent in words, rather than feels them. He can trust only 

35 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

that the words have the sincerity of something that comes, calmly, 
from a deep source. 

To say that one is a poet is a little like saying that one is a good man; 
saying it casts doubts on it; it is for other people to say. Perhaps all men 
who think of themselves as poets are sometimes tormented by the 
thought that they may have sacrificed much plain happiness and peace 
of mind that life seemed to offer to the cultivation of a gift that may, in 
the end, turn out to have been illusory. And, even if it is a real gift, 
to how many people does it matter? A British poet once gave two 
lectures on the human importance of poetry at a day continuation 
college, the first to office girls, the second to police cadets. They 
listened attentively, but at the end the office girls said that poetry 
seemed to be a very round-about way of saying things; the police 
cadets asked how much money there was in it. 

The English tribe, today, is in a divided and puzzled condition, and 
that division and puzzlement reflects itself in current English poetry. 
The state of poetry is never what it should be (the Muse is always an 
interesting invalid), but the doctors always disagree about what the 
illness is. A young American poet, Mr. Donald Hall, who has recently 
been living in England and casting an eye on the English poetic scene, 
diagnoses the disease of current English poetry as a self-defensive 
provincialism or insularity. 

English poets, he thinks, and English critics of poetry also have over 
the past ten years relapsed into a state of backward-looking introver- 
sion. They do not properly appreciate, or try to learn lessons from, 
major American poets like Wallace Stevens or Mr. Ezra Pound. They 
admire Mr. T. S. Eliot, but have ceased to find any relevance to their 
own problems in his poetic practice. They turn their backs on Europe, 
and on the revolution in poetic language which Mr. Eliot and Mr. 
Pound brought about partly by injecting shots of Laforgue, Dante, 
Cavalcanti, the imagism of the Japanese haiku, Baudelaire's awareness 
of the City, into the inert and torpid dying body of post-Victorian 
English verse. They are (Mr. Pound also thought this when he lived in 
England) incurably amateurish, One of the great show-poems in 
England of the last ten years is Mr. Philip Larkin's Church Going; Mr. 
Donald Hall thinks that if Mr. Larkrn were as technically adroit as an 
American poet of about the same age, Mr. Richard Wilbur, he would 
have tightened and sharpened the construction of this poem, cut in 

36 



SIGNS OF AN ALL TOO CORRECT COMPASSION 

length by about a third. Youngish English poets, compared to youngish 
American poets, are, perhaps, not properly 'professional'. 

There is something in this diagnosis, though one wonders whether 
it is really a diagnosis of an illness, or rather of a state of convalescence. 
The surprising best-seller among English poets in the last year or two 
has been Mr. John Betjeman. In the 19305, Mr. Betjeman was a special 
taste; Mr. Auden admired him, but many of the admirers of Mr. 
Auden had never heard of him. He certainly owes nothing (though 
he admires Mr. Eliot's mastery, in The Waste Land, of the topography 
of London) to Mr. Eliot or Mr. Pound or Wallace Stevens or the late 
Yeats, or 'modernism' in poetry generally. 

Modernism was partly a reaction, a violent, savage, and successful 
one, against what can broadly be called Victorianism (allowing that 
Mr. Pound, the primeval 'modernist*, came, in his earlier poems, 
straight out of Rossetti, William Morris, Swinburne, and Browning). 
Mr. Betjeman is as nostalgically Victorian, or late Edwardian, as could 
be. His blank verse, as Mr. John Sparrow has noted, is Termysonian. 
His stanza forms owe a lot to minor and major Victorian poets, from 
'Father Prout' to Hardy. He is Victorian in his wistful piety, in his 
unashamed delight both in facetiousness and sentiment, in his affection 
for the quaint and the grotesque. Yet the wide circle of his admirers 
ranges from obviously fastidious judges, like Mr. Auden and Mr. 
Philip Larkin, to people who have seen him on television or have heard 
Miss Joyce Grenfell recite his more broadly comic poems in revues. 

At a highbrow level he appeals to people who enjoy Dr. Pevsner's 
books on the buildings of England or his lectures on The Englishness of 
English Art; at other levels he appeals to simple piety, readiness to 
giggle, and to a nostalgia for a (no doubt largely imaginary) pre-1914 
English Paradise shared also by such different writers as George Orwell 
and Mr. John Osborne. Mr. Hall, one thinks, could certainly call him 
insular but would hardly dub him 'unprofessional*. Yet it is probably 
true that his poetry, with its wealth of local allusion and local sentiment, 
its high-pitched English titter, does shut a door in the face of American 
or European visitors. It is a special English thing. Nobody certainly 
could be more insular, more passionately local. 

It is true, also, that many of the poets most admired in Great Britain 
in recent years seem, in a sense, to have sidestepped the influence of 
'modernism*. If any voices can be heard behind Edwin Muir's very 

37 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

dignified and individual voice, they are those perhaps of Vaughan, of 
Wordsworth, of Heine, of the Border ballads. He made his own voice 
by being true to his vision and by ignoring, as irrelevant to his pur- 
poses, the 'modernist' revolution in language. His purpose was not to 
shock and surprise but to soothe, guide, console. 

Mr. Robert Graves, again, is an English poet who has always been 
admired but whose general reputation stands higher today than it ever 
did. Mr. A. Alvarez, who in his book on modern poetry, The Shaping 
Spirit, had dismissed Mr. Graves in a footnote as an interesting case of 
shell-shock, nobly recanted when reviewing the most recent edition of 
Mr. Graves's Collected Poems. A poet who lives in Majorca, and who 
is a notable mythographer and classical scholar, can scarcely be said 
to have turned his back on Europe, but certainly a quality that 
attracts Mr. Graves's admirers to his poems is a dogged and surly 
Englishness. 

Mr. Philip Larkin, too, and Mr. Ted Hughes, not at all like each 
other in other ways, are alike in seeming to draw more on Hardy, 
Edward Thomas, Wilfred Owen than on Mr. Pound or Mr. Eliot or 
the late Yeats or the 'modern movement' generally. Even a poet like 
Mr. Empson, who has rivalled Mr. Graves in his direct influence on 
young English poets over the last ten years, is not, for all the range of 
his learning, for all his sympathy with Buddhism and his travels in 
Japan and China, a cosmopolitan type; his tone of voice, elaborately 
off-hand or snarlingly grandiose, is, like Mr. Graves's, that of Milor 
Rosbif. 

The English poetry that has been written, and the English poetry 
that has influenced younger writers, over the past ten years or so, has 
been alarmingly, almost aggressively, English. That impeachment 
must be admitted. Young Scottish and Irish poets, Anglo-Welsh 
poets also, often find themselves just as indignant that the English 
should begin to find themselves more interesting than other people as 
Mr. Hall does. 

The English themselves have, however, their own complaints about 
the state of English poetry. The most common one (and, ironically, 
it is usually poets who make it) is that there are too many poets. 
Certainly, a reader of annual English collections of current poetry, like 
the P.E.N. or Guinness anthologies, will sometimes feel, so even is the 
level and so similar the general tone, that he is reading not the work of 

38 



SIGNS OF AN ALL TOO CORRECT COMPASSION 

thirty or forty different writers but of one composite contemporary 
English poet. 

This composite poet has learnt from Mr. Graves that it is better to 
write a modestly good poem than to blow oneself up to a false, dis- 
torted size in an attempt to write a great one. He prefers, on the whole, 
traditional metres and stanza forms to formal experiment. His diction 
is that of spoken speech, perhaps a little distanced and formalized, 
rather than that of song, oratory, or tragic harangue. He confronts 
difficult emotional situations with a technique of controlled relaxation. 
He likes to pursue an argument through a poem. He will often tell a 
little anecdote with an implicit moral. He likes domestic episodes and 
snapshot views. He distrusts the picturesque. He is more interested in 
depicting types than individuals. His strong lines are those which 
express a cogent generalization rather than those which isolate a par- 
ticular perception. He is rather weak, on the whole, on visual imagery, 
a townsman rather than a countryman. He has often a touch of humour 
or wit, but it is subdued and subacid rather than boisterous or 
exuberant. 

There is a Puritan streak in him, and a poem is often used to chasten 
a vague, romantic attitude or a silly sentimental impulse. He does not 
appear to be a Committed' poet very often. In religion he is respectfully 
or evasively agnostic; in politics and morals he is a worried liberal; his 
social attitudes are those of a man of realistic vision and sensitive good 
will, depressingly aware of the isolation of even the most common- 
sensical poet in an inorganic society* 

Or something like this was true three or four years ago in the heyday 
of what was called 'The Movement*. Today, young poets like Mr. 
Ted Hughes or Mr. Peter Redgrave are more ready to let themselves 
go, emotionally; though there is often an odd air of deliberateness or 
purposiveness rather than spontaneity in the way they let themselves 
go. It is as if violent feelings that had been deliberately leashed were 
now deliberately let out for a run. The feeling of the poet deliberately 
manipulating a tricky psychological situation remains. The feeling 
that he wrote a poem because he had to write it is rare. 

One might say that the composite young English poet of the 19505 
was rather anxious not to look like a poet; he might have had Mr. 
Plomer's barber in mind. There are signs among the youngest English 
poets of discontent with a too sane, too deflated, too prosaic image of 

39 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

the poet. In an admirable Cambridge undergraduate magazine, Delta, 
there was recently this fighting editorial: 

Criticism has suffered much recently from a general failure to appreciate 
the proper function of poetry, to understand what poetry as against the 
novel, the film, or anything elsecould and ought to do. Poems continue 
to be written, but too much from force of habit rather than any conscious 
determination to present experience in a new way, to alter people's habits 
of thought and feeling. What one misses, in looking through the latest 
Guinness anthology certainly a very fair cross-section is any sense of 
elevation from the loose, casual language of everyday prose; there may be 
sensitivity, there may be wit, there may even be high spirits, but there is no 
tension, no insistent personal rhythm forcing upon us a living imagination. 
The 'esemplastic' power is what is conspicuously absent, and it may well 
be that this is precisely because the creation the poiesis of an imaginative 
and not merely conceptual synthesis of experience now requires a 
degree of conscious application of intelligence far beyond the reach of 
rhomme moyen sensitive. Despite some recent appeals to learn from America, 
it's not simply a Little England rut; our life is horribly verbalized and 
poetry undoubtedly suffers when the strength of language is sapped by 
doing duty for other media of expression. 

The article goes on to suggest that poets might benefit by studying the 
techniques of films, of music, of painting, and so learning to escape 
from the supposition, into which we all tend to be conditioned, that 
'words are the only language'. The whole piece slightly recalls War- 
ton's essay on Pope, eight years after Pope's death, in which he denied 
Pope a place among the highest class of poets. Pope was a 'wit', a man 
of sense, a clever, intelligent man, but the true muscles of poetry, its 
real strength, lay, for Warton, in the sublime and the pathetic; just 
as for Arnold, a hundred or so years later, they lay in elevation and 
intensity, and Pope, for all his gifts, was a 'classic of our prose'. 

Modern defenders of Pope have not so much controverted Warton's 
and Arnold's principles as questioned tjieir appreciation of Pope; it is 
surely easy enough to discover the sublime and the pathetic, elevation 
and intensity, in the dimax of The Dunciad or throughout the Epistle 
to Arbuthnot. But there was another side to Pope, and where the 
editorial writer in Delta complains of 'the present plethora of the barely 
competent', lie is like Cowper complaining of Pope's imitators, 'Every 
warbler has His tune by heart*. It look as if there is a feeling among the 

40 



SIGNS OF AN ALL TOO CORRECT COMPASSION 

youngest poets at least that sensitivity is not enough. We may find in 
the next ten years that we have a thinner crop of new poets than in the 
19505; but that the language of those who survive will be, if less 
conversable than that of the young poets of the current mode, more 
tense, wrought, individual, and memorable. 



POETRY 2 



Breathing Words into the Ear of an 
Unliterary Era 



A man in his middle forties, looking around Him. in the England 
of today, can suddenly realize with astonishment that over 
the past ten years he has seen cultural changes more radical, 
almost, than the social and political changes he saw between 1930 and 
1950, those momentous years when he grew from adolescence to man- 
hood. The cultural changes are not like Munich, or Dunkirk, or V-Day, 
or the Labour Party victory at the end of the Second "World War. They 
do not even tie up very closely with deep emotional divisions in the 
country, about Suez, about nuclear disarmament, or about whether a 
democrat can be a liberal, let alone a gentleman. They partly come, as 
all large cultural changes come, with time and its erosions. 

The historical memory of the mass of the people, even, in a reason- 
ably highly educated industrial democracy like Great Britain, has a 
backward stretch of about five years. What lies in time before that is 
the good or bad old days, legend or vague history, a few names and 
dates not held in any sharp perspective. To a writer in his twenties today 
the 19305 are as far back in time, and perhaps farther back in their 
impact on the imagination, than the 1890$ will have been, say, in 1920 
to Mr. Robert Graves or Mr. Aldous Huxley. The Second World 
War to a schoolboy in his teens is paperback escape stories, as to a 
schoolboy in his teens in 1930 the First World War was perhaps John 
Buchan or Sapper. In subtler ways, the flavour is different, too. Even 
five years ago the 'pub' and the pint of bitter were the symbol, in 
novels like Lucky Jim, for democratic conviviality, getting together. 
People under thirty are not so often seen in an English 'pub' today. The 
young people are in the coffee-bars and dance-halls. London used to 
suggest steak-houses, tea-rooms, Cockney humour. Scattered all over 



42 



BREATHING WORDS INTO THE EAR OF AN UNLITERARY ERA 

with gay little restaurants, Italian, Pakistani, Chinese, it now suggests 
some cosmopolitan atmosphere, Cairo, Alexandria. 

London, too, offers visual changes. In Knightsbridge or in Padding- 
ton great high cellular structures, great oblong honeycombs, new 
hotels, or blocks of offices and flats, dwarf their surroundings and give 
the spectator a sense of having shrunk in size and importance. They 
also cut themselves off in time. They are not a continuation, the next 
thing to do, but a kind of intrusion from elsewhere. They make the 
historical city spreading around them look like something preserved 
in a museum. And any person in early middle age who has to teach 
the young, in day continuation classes, art schools, provincial univer- 
sities, must often also have that sense of being something preserved in 
a museum. To the candid eyes and ears of the young the teachers' 
respectable dark suit and his carefully lucid sentences obviously seem, 
often, as quaint and old-world as a Punch drawing by John Leech. The 
quality of the talk and writing of the new generation of students is 
a kind of fresh and honest ineloquence, an unwillingness to make 
anything smooth or slick. It is a kind of honourable anti-style. 

Students in Great Britain today seem neither shy nor forward. They 
are not frustrated, tormented, or even ambitious. They are self-con- 
tained. They are rather conformist, but to their own, not adult, norms. 
They have no wish to be individually conspicuous. They are unemo- 
tional, but also straightforwardly hopeful and idealistic. It is difficult to 
get them to appreciate devices like irony, or the notion of literature as 
performance. Words of critical praise they use are 'simple 5 and 'sin- 
cere' ; a word of critical disparagement is 'irony'. Yet in a way they 
may be more mature than their teachers were at the same age. A first- 
year university student will say that he cannot get on with Yeats, 
because Yeats is so unlike Crabbe; and his tutor is momentarily baffled 
because, of course, yes, if there were not so much else to say, there is 
so much more plain sense about human life in Crabbe. 

It is important to notice also that young people, even if they are 
studying literature for a degree, do not read today much more than 
they have to.. And they care much less about words, about the shape 
and feel and look and sound of sentences, than students of about tie 
same range of intelligence did twenty, perhaps even ten, years ago. 
Television no doubt partly explains this. A skilled sound broadcaster, 
trying out television for the first time, makes the humiliating discovery 

43 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

that there is no point in polishing Ms pluases; lie must know 
the gist of what lie has to say, tie it on to somebody else's gist, and let 
the words tumble out as quickly as possible. Ten or fifteen years ago. 
regional patriots in England used sometimes to complain that sound 
radio was ironing out local accents. As television supplants sound 
radio, local accents are coming back thick and fast again. 

An elegant handling of the spoken and written word used to be a 
primary social weapon in England. Today an observer who covers 
enough ground can watch the English language being steadily demo- 
cratized, as perhaps the American language is already; airs and graces, 
little flourishes, little niceties are being ironed out for the sake of direct 
communication. A way of speaking or writing is ceasing to be, except 
in an old-fashioned and growingly rather absurd way, an assumption 
of, or a claim for, status. Thus, in the appreciation of poetry and in 
attempts to write poetry among younger people in Great Britain over 
the next few years, we must expect less and less attention to be paid to 
the artificial, the formal, the purely 'literary' qualities of poetry ; we must 
expect a growing attention to be paid to a quality of raw directness, 
of speakability. Left to himself, a provincial undergraduate might read 
D. H. Lawrence's Pansies for pleasure; he would not read 'Lycidas'. 

And in the poems young people themselves attempt to write this 
quality of speech-gesture, of spoken spontaneity, is likely in future to 
be more and more highly valued. An acute young English critic, 
Mr. Alan Brownjohn, in an Anglo-American 'little magazine' of 
verse and comment, Migrant, had a most interesting comparison 
partly from this point of view, between two short poems, one by an 
English poet, Mr. Philip Larkin, the other by an American poet, Mr. 
Robert Creeley. Part of his point was that the apparent spoken spon- 
taneity of the English poem began to look 'literary' again when set 
beside the direct speech-gesture of the American poem. The two short 
poems are on a broadly identical theme. This is Mr. Larkin's : 

DAYS 

What are days for? 
Days are where we live. 
They come, they wake us 
Time and time over. 
They are to be happy in: 
What can we Eve but days? 

44 



BREATHING WORDS INTO THE EAR OF AN UNLITERARY ERA 

Ah, solving that question 
Brings the priest and the doctor 
In their long coats 
Running over the fields. 

Mr. Creeley's poem is this: 

I KNOW A MAN 

As I sd to my 
friend, because I am 
always talking. John, I 
sd, which was not his 
name, the darkness sur- 
rounds us, what 
can we do against 
it, or else, shall we & 
why not, buy a goddam big car, 
drive, he sd, for 
christ's sake, look 
out where yr going. 

Mr. Larkin's poem, Mr. Brownjohn points out, is a poem asking 
questions about concepts and giving, at least by implication, an answer. 
If we ask what the purpose of time and change is, the only sane practical 
answer is that in time and change we have to shape, and as far as pos- 
sible fulfil, our lives. If we get metaphysically worried about this, it is a 
sign that we are ill or perhaps dying; the priest, to look after the soul, 
the doctor, to look after mind and body, come scampering across the 
fields as to a motor accident. Better, the implication is, therefore to put 
off that kind of metaphysical worrying as long as possible. If Mr. 
Larkin's poem looks 'literary' in comparison to Mr. Credey's in its 
neat handling of concepts, it also begins to look 'literary' in its handling 
of metre ; we notice the artifice that makes us stress, not quite according 
to the rhyttmis of natural speech, just two key words in each line: 

What are days for? 
Days are where we live. 
They come, they wake us 
Time and time over . , . 

45 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

There is a kind of self-containment, also, in eacli line even where it is 
not end-stopped. 

All Mr. Creeley's lines are, on the other hand, artificially breath- 
stopped (the reader is forced to pause where semantically he would 
not pause) and yet they are not self-contained. The purpose of the 
abbreviations is to warn us not to give isolated resonance, a traditional 
'musical' or 'poetic' resonance, to any individual word. What the 
pauses at the end of the line do is artificially slow down a statement 
that otherwise could be printed as rather everyday prose. The poem 
uses what artifice it has to produce an imitation of somebody speaking 
inartificially, jerkily, spontaneously. There seem at first to be no 
concepts but only a rather trivial anecdote. But then we reflect that 
the friend whose name is not John might be Christ (introduced tact- 
fully in the apparently cheaply blasphemous Tor/christ's sake'), that 
the talking would therefore be praying, that the darkness is not only 
that of the road but that of the future and man's destiny, that the temp- 
tation to buy *a goddam big car' is like the temptation to build up a 
purely technological society or a great military machine, and that the 
friend's advice to look out where one is going is like Mr. Auden's 
advice, in a Christian poem addressed to undergraduates, to take short 
views and trust in God. Where Mr. Larkin, Mr. Brownjohn notes, 
gives us *a distant, impersonal speculation' Mr. Creeley involves us in 
a 'violent encounter'. Mr. Brownjohn feels that young English poets 
could learn a lesson from Mr. Creeley's 'immediacy, fidelity to momen- 
tary experience'. What is technically specially interesting is that this is 
composition by breath-units, for the voice, not composition for the 
page. It seems probable that quite a lot of English poetry by younger 
writers may find itself going this way. 

If English poetry were to develop over the next few years on deliber- 
ately non-literary lines of this sort, that, of course, would fit in with 
what young writers like Mr. Arnold Wesker and Miss Shelagh 
Delaney are doing with plays, perhaps with what Mr. Alan Sillitoe is 
doing with short stories. The non-literary poet, dramatist or story- 
teller seeks not to purify the dialect of the tribe but to project it in all 
its rawness and hesitation, in all its apparent sentimentality and lack 
of logic and taste, its repetitions and its tailings away. 

Non-literary writing in this rather technical sense can, of course, 
have considerable value as literature; some precursors in the mode are 



BREATHING WORDS INTO THE EAR OF AN UNLITERARY ERA 

Joel Chandler Harris of the Uncle Remus stories, Mark Twain, Gertrude 
Stein in a book like Three Lives, Mr. Hemingway, Mr. Salinger, in 
the drama perhaps Mr. Sean O' Casey; some aspects of Blake might 
fit in, in poetry, and the English folk songs, often wandering and 
incoherent, recently collected in unexpurgated versions by Mr. James 
Reeves, are also relevant. In drama, perhaps the modern classics in a 
non-literary vein are the first three or four plays of Mr. Sean O'Casey. 
What defines non-literary literature is not crudity, or a lack of the 
sense of value, but that such literature cuts itself very largely from, is 
not a logical development of, the book-literature of its time; it separ- 
ates itself from that rather as these new large oblong honey-comb 
buildings in London seem to separate themselves, rawly, from their 
surroundings. Of course, if it is any good, it will itself become part of 
the book-literature of a later age. 

Even for 'literary' poets and lovers of poetry in England, however, 
the book is perhaps becoming less centrally important than it once was 
and the enjoyment of poetry is becoming, in consequence, a less soli- 
tary occupation. On a long-playing gramophone record we can today 
contrast, for instance, the boom and burr of Yeats's incantations with 
the coolly separative way separating words and syllables, separating 
the poet from the emotions involved in writing the poem in which 
Mr. Auden reads his elegy for Yeats. We can contrast the manner in 
which Dylan Thomas, reading a poem, pulls out all the stops with the 
way in which Mr. Robert Graves's old-fashioned ofncerVand-gentle- 
man's voice stands, as it were, at attention, well back from the poem. 
Such readings give us a closer sense of what might be called the body 
of a poem, the relationship between a poet's physical organism and his 
word patterns, than all but a few readers with rather exceptional gifts 
for aural empathy can have enjoyed in tie past, 

Mr. Francis Berry, a poet and critic, has, in fact, been working for 
some years on a theory that the inexplicable antipathies which most of 
us feel to poems that other people enjoy come from a failure, as it were, 
to time into the poet's voice; thus Shelley's speaking voice was shrill 
and thin and in his verse it still grates on many ears; and the voice of 
Milton in Paradise Lost is heavier, deeper, slower, less delicate in its 
shifts of pitch, than the voice of Milton in Comus. 

We are going to see, in the next ten or twenty years in England, a 
society even at its most intellectual level, less interested in solitary 

47 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

reading, more interested in looking, in listening, in co-operative 
response, than English intellectual society has been in the past. These 
fairly new mediums, the tape-recorder, the long-playing gramophone 
record, the poetry broadcast or television programme, have therefore 
a great importance for the future of English poetry, both in relation to 
the audience and in relation to the ways in which poetry is composed. 
Educated people have learnt, in a world in which there is an increasing 
yearly range of information for them to keep up with, to skim over a 
page as Macaulay did, to tear the heart out of, say, a weekly paper in 
half an hour. They know the sort of thing that is going to be said, and 
how it is going to be said; they stop, they read carefully, only when 
they come on a fact or an argument that surprises them or a piece of 
writing, perhaps a paragraph, perhaps only a sentence in a long article, 
that seems to have an unusually individual note. They have learnt to 
cut off resonance; and, alas, a practised reader soon finds that he is 
capable at a glance of classifying, rather than of absorbing and respond- 
ing to, poems that appear in weekly or monthly journals. It is very 
difficult to teach schoolchildren and university students that poetry 
deserves more, not less, careful and intensive reading than prose. And 
the art of rapid reading, which we all have to learn, may be indeed 
slowly killing the sense of tone in prose, as well as in poetry. All these 
are reasons why the idea of poetry as something that need not exist 
primarily on or for the page is growingly important. 

What is perhaps equally important is the idea of poetry as neither 
primarily an art nor primarily a craft, but primarily a gesture of 
response to life; and as not necessarily a romantically solitary but often 
fruitfully a socially co-operative activity. Mr. Boris Ford recently 
published an anthology of poems by schoolchildren which suggested 
the existence in most children, at least up to the cloudier stages of 
adolescence, of a pure and genuine poetic spirit. The results can go 
wrong; there are the dangers, as indeed with adult poets, of imitation 
and self-consciousness, of polishing away life for the fear of rawness. 
But good teachers have often found that encouraging children to try 
to write poetry is the best way of leading them on to read it with, 
enjoyment. There are groups of young poets also, in London and 
elsewhere, who want, of course, to get their work published, but whose 
centrally enjoyable activity in connexion with it is gathering with 
groups of friends, who are provided with cydostyled copies of their 

48 



BREATHING WORDS INTO THE EAR OF AN UNLITERARY ERA 

poems, to have the poenis read, analysed, criticized; and these dis- 
cussions, if they sometimes lead to quarrels, sometimes also lead to 
improvement of the poems. 

It is in this diffused, intelligent, alive interest in poetry, an interest 
growingly divorced from the traditional egotism of the poet, that we 
must rest our immediate hopes for the future of English poetry in a 
society subtly and yet drastically changing in many ways. The idea of 
the 'traditional 9 has to be given a sharper and more immediately con- 
temporary relevance than it had in a society in which the book was 
the main medium of cultural communication. 



49 



POETRY 3 



Is Lallans a Unique Phenomenon; 



There are two possible explanations of the origin of the recent 
revival of Lallans or Lowland Scots by modern Scottish, poets. 
The first of these alternatives would seek to trace the develop- 
ment back through indigenous Scottish sources to the work of Burns 
and, even more importantly, of Dunbar and Henryson. Those who 
believe in this line of descent, like Mr. Tom Scott, are preoccupied with 
problems of diction and are determined to bring back the full aureate 
flow of the Golden period of Scottish letters. 

The other, and perhaps more generally accepted thesis, would trace 
the recrudescence of Lallans back, not to anything peculiarly Scottish 
but rather to the experiments with other vulgar dialects made at the 
beginning of the present century by poets as different from one 
another as Rudyard Kipling and John Davidson. Particularly Davidson, 
for not only had he the advantage of being Scots but also his recourse 
to Cockney English was inspired by a conscious desire to extend the 
limits of English poetry, which is not true of Kipling or his followers 
such as the present Poet Laureate. Thus, in Ms key poem, 'Thirty Bob 
a Week', he writes: 

I ain't blaspheming, Mr. Silver Tongue; 
Fm saying things a bit beyond your art: 
Of all the rummy starts you ever sprung, 
Thirty boh a week's the rummiest start I 

It was because Davidson was 'saying things a bit beyond' the art of 
the fn-de-siede silver tongued schools that he originally appealed to 
the arch-innovator, one could almost say inventor, of modern Lallans, 

50 



IS LALLANS A UNIQUE PHENOMENON? 

Mr. Hugh MacDiarmid, and so earned himself one of the most moving 
elegies in twentieth-century verse: 

I remember one death in my boyhood 
That next my father's, and darker, endures, 
Not Queen Victoria's, but Davidson, yours. 

Seen in this way Lallans ceases to be a peculiarly Scottish phenomenon 
and can be found among the ranks of all the European linguistic experi- 
ments of the present century which have had as their aim the resuscita- 
tion of languages buried beneath die weight of their own abstractions. 
It can be found alongside the efforts of Joyce and Pound to revive 
English, with Proust's and Beckett's attempts to put new vigour into 
French, Marinetti's to jolt Italian into action, Czechowicz's to instil 
peasant vitality into Polish, and so on. 

Undoubtedly it is this latter view of the matter which is held by Mr. 
MacDiarmid who has demonstrated in his translations from such 
writers as Rilke and Blok his sympathy with European culture as a 
whole. Indeed, in recent years he has gone far beyond the European 
heritage, drawing on such varied resources as Zulu incantations, South 
American poetry and Chinese ideograms. But this broadening of his 
interests coincided with his abandonment of Lallans and we may 
therefore look on Lallans as an attempt to meet the peculiar linguistic 
conditions which have prevailed in Europe during the present century. 

There are few writers of English who would disagree with Mr. 
MacDiannid's statement that: 

Those who are vitally concerned with tie English language know that it 
has vastly outgrown itself and is becoming more and more useless for 
creative purposes. 

This was written as long ago as 1934 and there has been no reason to 
change its applications in the intervening years. Rather tie position 
has still further deteriorated as science goes on evolving new linguistic 
methods to deal with problems which, though apparently esoteric, 
yet affect the lives of all of us. More and more experience is being cut 
off each year from the mainstream of the colloquial language so that 
the artist, whose duty it is to try to cover every aspect of experience, 
has the alternatives of missing these areas completely or of introducing 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

technical terms into his creations at the expense of their general 
intelligibility. 

Now there is one way out of this dilemma, and that is to treat experi- 
ence as it comes, tied to the microscopic details of locality. By doing 
this the artist can undercut the whole paraphernalia of the conceptual 
world and get down to the effects these conceptions have on a single 
human being. This was the method of Joyce and it is the method of Mr. 
MacDiarmid in his Lallans verse. Indeed it is the one respect in which 
all the major writers of our time can be found to agree, writers as 
different as D. H. Lawrence and Henry James, W. B. Yeats and Ezra 
Pound; all have a keen sense of the specific situation as shaped by the 
accidents of time and place, which are our equivalent of the Greek 
concept of destiny. 

This is what originally gave Lallans its functional point, for the 
Scottish experience is too widely separated from the English to be 
represented in all its intense individuality in the same language, or at 
least Mr. MacDiarmid's Scottish experience was too different. Mr. 
MacDiarmid would go further and suggest that there is a basic antagon- 
ism between the English way of looking at things and the Scottish. 
Any extract from the Scottish National Dictionary, at present being 
edited by Mr. David Murison, tends to confirm this suggestion. There 
is a palpable asymmetry between the well-mannered definitions in 
the English and the couthy illustrative quotations from the Scots. Thus, 
we find the ~woidfleech defined as 'to coax, wheedle, flatter; to beseech, 
entreat, importune* and its use illustrated by, among other things, a 
quotation from Gait's Entail: 1 only say, mother, that I'll no sign ony 
paper whatsomever, . . . so ye need na try to fleetch me/ If one tries 
to substitute any of the English terms given for that one Scots word one 
recognizes immediately that there is a peculiar genius at work in the 
Scots tongue and that, whatever else it may be, it is no friend to the 
English* 

This hostility, not limited to matters of language, to all things 
English, gives rise to many of the more absurd aspects of Mr. Mac- 
Diarmid's work and life. Yet, though it has its absurd side, this antag- 
onism to England was one of the motive forces behind the emergence 
of Lallans and just how powerful a force it was may be judged by the 
gradual attenuation of Lallans which has followed Mr. MacDiarmid's 
original impetus. Deprived of any genuine dislike of things English, 

52 



IS LALLANS A UNIQUE PHENOMENON? 

writers like Mr. Robert Garioch. Mr. Tom Scott and Mr. A, D. 
Mackie lapse into Lallans for purely personal reasons which they would 
find it hard to justify in terms of world literature. Their work, as a 
result, lacks the compulsive force of the master's and we are really 
back in the kailyard, for all the pretentiousness of their linguistic 
mannerisms. 

This process of attenuation can be seen in the development of a single 
poet, Mr. Sydney Goodsir Smith. At the height of his power Mr. Smith 
could write such verse as the following : 

. . . The wind that drave Ms ships, rank on rank o them, 

Sun on the iHchteran-featherie oars, the faem, 

Spindrift, spume, landbrist and speed, 

Sea-gaean wolves, a pack, wild geese owre the emerant spase, 

Their pennards bricht like tongues i the wind, swan-wings spreid, 

The greinan outraxed craigs o swans 

Drinkan the wind for Italic, Aeneas fleet 
Speedin awa frae Carthagie and Afiic's burnan queen. 

Yet his latest book, Figs and Thistles, contains little of distinction, except 
for two translations, one from the French of Tristan Corbiere, the 
other from the Russian of Alexander Blok. 

And, indeed, it is noticeable that most of the best recent productions 
in Lallans have been translations of one sort or another. Mr. Douglas 
Young has weighed in with two versions from the Greek of Aristo- 
phanes. Mr. Tom Scott has attempted Villon and Dante. And Mr. 
R. G. Sutherland has recently published a version of George Buchanan's 
play, Jephthah and The Baptist. This would seem to suggest that, after the 
initial creativity of Mr. MacDiarmid's early verse, Lallans is settling 
down into a kind of respectability and trying to forge itself into a more 
complete literary vehicle before it takes the plunge into a new and 
different kind of creation. But, before congratulating these poets on 
their attempts to strengthen Lallans, we would do well to remember 
the words of Mr. MacDiarmid himself: 

Any language, real or artificial, serves if a creative artist finds Ms medium 
in it. In other words, it does not depend on any other consideration, but 
wholly upon that ram avis, the creative artist himself. 



53 



PUBLISHING AND PRINTING i 



Entrepreneur, Gambler and Missionary 



Every publisher will tell you that his first duty is to his author, 
but few, if any, regard this prior obligation as an exclusive one. 
There is also society, and the publisher likes to think that he 
has a place in society not merely as one of its components but also as a 
contributor and fashioner. He has in fact three active functions to 
perform: to entertain, to educate, and to use a single word which 
will have to be expanded to propel, that is to say, to help to carry the 
mind forward into new aesthetic and intellectual territory. It is with 
the third function, the vaguest and quantitatively much the slightest, 
that this essay is concerned. What is the publisher's service to Litera- 
ture and to Thought? 

The publisher is essentially an entrepreneur and he suffers some of 
the disdain and complexes of that necessary, if inadequately admired, 
station. Somebody (was it Mr. John Betjeman?) once implied that the 
man who takes to publishing books is the man who cannot write them, 
a remark that has the ring of half-truth about it (especially if poetry and 
memoirs are allowed to constitute exceptions as sporadic or elderly 
activities, though that still leaves author-publishers like Mr. Raleigh 
Trevelyan, Mr. Jocelyn Baines and Mr. Rayner Unwin to dispute the 
slighting imputation). But the publisher, if he must accept a less 
creative role in society than the author whom he serves, can still claim 
a more stimulating one than the author's target, since without a pub- 
lisher the author cannot make his mark. This is obvious enough and it 
is the middleman's perennial justification, but what is not always 
sufficiently realized is that the publisher, who serves Literature as well 

54 



ENTREPRENEUR, GAMBLER AND MISSIONARY 

as authors at some risk to himself, requires certain qualities which are 
not a necessary part of the make-up of other middlemen. 

The first of these qualities is the gambling spirit and the second is the 
missionary spirit, and it is difficult to think of any other vocation where 
these two inclinations are combined. The publisher who confines 
himself to his two first functions as entertainer and educator needs com- 
petence and experience rather than the hankering to venture and to 
propagate, hut as soon as he embarks on the third task of giving 
currency to new art and new ideas he must both take chances and push 
his wares, since he is trying to find readers for something that is by 
definition exceptional and novel. He is out to give people what they 
have not had before and to create the taste for it. In this pursuit the 
publisher must be withdrawn but yet not too far withdrawn. If pub- 
lishing is something more than the issuing of books of predictable 
content and appearance, then it cannot be done in a bustle. But the 
publisher must also be in the swim. His senses must be active upon 
the literary scene and he must keep his discrimination sharpened 
upon something more than his own ruminations. The capacity for 
standing apart in a crowd is the third characteristic of the whole 
publisher, 

Does this clutch of attributes entrepreneur, gambler, and mission- 
ary, semi-detachedness predicate anything else? Almost certainly it 
means that this composite character, the publisher, must be a youngish 
man. Some old men, it is true, remain young, so that they (and their 
friends) have the best of both worlds, but the law of nature which 
makes most men waste in spirit as they advance in years is more stulti- 
fying in a publisher's office than in almost any other business enterprise. 
To accept new insights and to put across new ideas it is necessary not 
only to appreciate diem but also to get excited about them. This is a 
young man's assignment and die publishing firm which does not 
recruit the young is doomed to fall out of the literary scene, though it 
may go on entertaining and educating with profit to its authors, its 
readers and itself. 

University tutors and publishers themselves can testify that young 
people are attracted to publishing as a career. They see something 
stirring, rewarding and glamorous about it, especially in the^ more 
famous literary houses, and these firms would not have the slightest 
difficulty in getting new blood for their businesses if it were not for 

55 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

two disturbing factors which are sapping the strength and attenuating 
the quality of the whole profession: pay is low and progress to the top 
is not open to talent. The young man or girl coming down from a 
university will start at about ^500 a year. Many of his friends will be 
doing better than that, but perhaps he will not mind too much, for 
his enthusiasm, his vocation and (after all) the genuine interest of the 
job will smother any slight feeling of disquiet or grievance. More 
worrying in a few years' time is his inability to see how he can ever 
get beyond a certain point. He has been impressed with the personal 
flavour of much of a publisher's business but he cannot reach a position 
of real personal authority, a position where he makes the important 
decisions and choices, unless he has money. 

Obversely the publisher who is looking for a 'likely' successor is 
most often restricted in his search because he owns a valuable stake in 
his firm and wishes to sell it on his retirement to somebody who can 
pay full value for it. In theory this difficulty does not assail a large con- 
cern where ownership and control have become divorced, but quite 
apart from objections to such a divorce in publishing in effect the 
substitution of the salaried entrepreneur for the automotive entre- 
preneur there are few publishing businesses where it has in fact 
happened. In most the retiring partner must either sell to a moneyed 
successor or else make a gift of his share to a son or other relative or a 
stranger. 

Financially, publishing does not offer great rewards, and if by skill 
and perseverance a publisher does make his pile, he finds some diffi- 
culty in realizing it at the end of the day. He is therefore either tempted 
to assume that the end of the day is not yet and to carry on in defiance 
of the laws of nature: or he must, in all but exceptionally lucky circum- 
stances, choose between a personal successor with more money than 
acumen and an impersonal successor without necessarily any special 
knowledge of publishing or compulsive love of books who will 
operate the business through a bailiff. The moneyed man and the 
bailiff may turn out to be excellent, but so long as the unrnoneyed man 
who does not happen to be appointed bailiff is kept out, the state of 
publishing is unhealthy and its future obscure. A structural revolution 
is vaguely in the offing and until it is carried through the business will 
be starved of talent and preoccupied with basic material worries to the 
detriment of its cultural mission. The various amalgamations 

56 



ENTREPRENEUR, GAMBLER AND MISSIONARY 

wMdh take place from time to time on both sides of the Atlantic 
(sometimes with gusto and sometimes with nostalgia) are evidence of 
this insecurity but no answer in the long run to the question how 
the independent publisher can survive as something more than a 
book wholesaler. 

This may seem an unduly gloomy view to take of an industry where 
the leaders are undoubtedly prosperous and the lone wolf can still 
break in and reach in a few years the point of giving authors lunch at 
the Ritz. Moreover, a revolution in printing techniques and costs could 
alter the picture overnight and restore to the publisher the amplitude 
(in common parlance, the margin of profit) which he needs in order to 
fulfil all three of the functions in society which were outlined at the 
beginning of this essay. But for the time being the wise publisher 
annexes his literary ambitions to a sound business in school texts or 
ephemeral fiction. Nor indeed has he much choice in the matter, for 
the enduring works of literature are few and publishers* seasonal lists 
are long (far longer, for instance, than the average German publisher's 
list, which would be regarded as impracticably small in this country). 
In this valued field, therefore, too many publishers are chasing too few 
writers ; although the 'great work* is not necessarily the most profitable 
kind of book to publish (or at any rate not the most immediately 
profitable), there is more rejoicing in a publisher's breast over one such 
catch than over ninety and nine more ordinary turnover builders. 
The result is sharp competition with the familiar attendant advantages 
and vices of this state of affairs. 

And here we may observe a paradox. The likeliest stable for the 
appearance of a new Proust or a new Freud is the firm with a reputation 
for literary and intellectual discernment established by past achieve- 
ments, but there is a sense in which the successful publisher of twenty 
or thirty years ago is also positively at a disadvantage, for the more 
distinguished his back list the greater his need to strain after new writing 
to match the stars of the past, under pain of seeming to belong to 
yesterday rather than today. His newer rivals wiE be unstinting in 
their admiration of his contributions to culture but they will contrive 
to cast their praise in the past tense. The implication is obvious and the 
riposte is easy and frequent: the new men lack resources, professional 
standing, the ability to provide the full range of services, etc. The 
snapping is kept within bounds because publishers are on the 

57 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

whole agreeable and busy people, but the jealousy is there and it 
is further accentuated by the intervention of yet a third class of 
publisher. 

Besides the new boys (mostly small, almost one man, shows) and 
the quality firms (mostly medium in size) there are the big boys. These 
are no less famous than anybody else in the trade and their lists include 
many first magnitude stars, but the most obvious thing about them is 
their size; they tend to regard size as a reproach and they fear the 
onset of one of the natural consequences of size, namely, the develop- 
ment of their imprint into a stereotype. They have money to spare, 
and when they turn their attention to the publisher's cultural mission 
the sharp competition in this field sometimes begins to take on an air 
of sharp practice. Authors and publishers commonly enter into con- 
tracts which cover more than one book and it is therefore normal for 
an author to have current contractual obligations to his publisher. 
But this knowledge does not always stop a piratically minded publisher 
from making advances to an author who may be presumed to have 
promised his next book elsewhere, and the ordinary publisher's 
ignorance of the law is such that he seems unaware that the procuring 
of a breach of contract is an actionable wrong for which he could sue 
his enterprising but peccant colleague; or if he does know this, 
he does nothing about it partly because he finds moral indignation 
less cumbersome and less improper than threatening the law 
and partly because he is perhaps not entirely happy about option 
clauses. 

Within the profession he prefers to treat poaching as the infraction 
of a moral code rather than the invasion of a legal right (an attitude 
which leaves the poacher free to get on with his poaching), and 
although he can make out a good case for options that is, for doing 
business with an author over more than a single book he has a 
sneaking suspicion that authors and public are unwilling to concede 
the logic of his case. So, with choler or stoicism, he condones mal- 
practice. Meanwhile, be it observed, the author gains and it is not for 
the community to grudge him the fat cheque which he puts in his 
pocket because his fame and skill have caused rich Messrs. X to solicit 
him for 100,000 words at a shilling apiece. 

Are these half-hidden morbidities any concern of the outside world? 
The publisher is expected to give, and holds himself out as giving, and 

58 



ENTREPRENEUR, GAMBLER AND MISSIONARY 

does in fact give, some social service. It is therefore a pity to put it no 
higher that he is operating today in less favourable circumstances 
than his predecessors and that there are certain debilitating and corro- 
sive tendencies in his trade. The relationship between author and 
publisher, a relationship which can be of great value to the young 
author and often continues so for a lifetime, is an asset of price to the 
community. But it exists upon conditions, chief among them that the 
publisher should be intelligent enough and sensitive enough to talk 
with the author on equal terms, that he should have the financial 
elbow-room to take risks with new writers, and that he should not 
have so many authors that he has time to spare for none. If he is dull or 
poor or remote, he can contribute nothing positive to the fostering of 
talent, and when aH publishers are either dull or poor or remote 
something will have been lost. A threat exists because the best recruits 
now hesitate to join a profession that pays ill and puts too many 
hazards in the way of promotion to the top; because all but the biggest 
publishers have reduced financial margins and therefore gamble less 
often; and because large firms which do comparatively little to dis- 
cover talent are nevertheless efficiently geared to exploit it and do so 
at the expense of the successful author's first publisher. 

It is a curious and unremarked fact that the original publisher has no 
continuing interest in the profits which another publisher derives from 
an author's work, even though the first publisher may have done a 
great deal to establish the author without making much of a profit (if 
any) from his early work. While the author should clearly be entitled 
to all that any publisher will pay him for his work and should not be 
shackled to any one publisher there is a case for saying that in certain 
circumstances (admittedly difficult to define) a publisher who annexes 
a specially valuable author should be required to pay a levy to that 
author's original publisher. This is a revolutionary thought which 
publishers will find somewhat indigestible, but, however difficult the 
application, they can hardly reject the principle and at the same time 
continue with logic to decry the activities of their more predatory 
brethren. As things are at present the publisher tries to protect himself 
by imposing legal restrictions or moral inhibitions on the author, but 
these are dubiously justifiable in theory and imperfectly effective in 
practice; they can even rub the author-publisher relationship which 
they are designed to maintain the wrong way. 

59 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

More difficult still to circumvent than the threat to this relationship 
are the barriers to the advancement within the trade of the independent 
publisher without private means. This is a problem which is not 
peculiar to publishing, though its implications in publishing may have 
deeper social implications than elsewhere. The desire to smooth the 
path of the best man to the top regardless of means conflicts, more- 
over, with the proposition that in publishing the best man is a man 
who, among other things, takes financial risks, which will hurt him if 
they go wrong. But does venturing necessarily involve taking risks 
of this sort? Is it possible to venture in the way a good publisher should 
venture without the element of personal financial involvement? How 
independent must the independent publisher be? The completely 
independent publisher must clearly have money. The ambition of the 
good man without money is today restricted to becoming a bailiff for 
absentee owners, and in practice the absentee owners have proved 
remarkably liberal and have left their chosen bailiffs free to get on with 
the job. But it is far from certain that this will always be so. The new 
owners who have invaded the publishing scene have been able in this 
generation to pick bailiffs who have already proved themselves in the 
world of independent publishing and are personalities who are not 
lightly to be tampered with. How the pattern will develop in the next 
generation nobody knows. 

Meanwhile, between the completely independent owner-publishers 
and the absentee owners' bailiff there is a possible third type who may 
be about to nose his way on to the stage. He has already appeared in 
Fleet Street in circumstances very similar to those which call for new 
avenues in publishing. He is the nominee of trustees who are without 
personal financial interests and may be described as eunuch-owners, 
since they have power to appoint and (sometimes) power to dismiss 
but no power, or very little power, to interfere between the appoint- 
ment and disappearance of their chosen executive who is to all intents 
and purposes independent of them. There are in Fleet Street many 
variations on this comparatively modern scheme, but something of 
the sort applies to the most valuable organs of the press, and the most 
coveted and useful editorships are won by talent within this frame- 
work; the editor is independent but not at personal risk. To meet the 
decline of the privateer and the challenge of the big brash barons a new 
man had to be invented and new channels opened for his progress. It 

60 



ENTREPRENEUR, GAMBLER AND MISSIONARY 

lias been a significant piece of social engineering which, lite all the 
best adaptations, has added variety without suppressing any part of the 
existing apparatus. It has enriched journalism and could do as much for 
publishing. 



61 



PUBLISHING AND PRINTING 2 



Pages Designed to Please 



The concept of the publisher's typographer as an expert with 
professional standing is fairly new in this country, where pro- 
fessionals, as opposed to amateurs, used to be regarded with 
slight condescension. As in other fields, designers for print have had 
and still have to struggle against indifference and against the sus- 
picion which, perhaps as a Puritan inheritance, is only too often brought 
to bear on anybody with a serious concern for aesthetics. Outside a 
small circle of enthusiasts book designers have remained largely 
anonymous, and those who use their talents have given them no more 
than somewhat grudging recognition. 

If these opening remarks sound a little jaundiced they are neverthe- 
less facts which should be taken into account when trying to define 
where British book design stands today and in assessing its virtues and 
weaknesses. 'Tradition ist Schlamperei', said Gustav Mahler in a differ- 
ent context, but his dictum can point a lesson when one compares 
British book design since the last war with the work done by a small 
group of devotees during the period of the typographic revival the 
19205 and 19305. It is impossible to come away from a visit to a book- 
shop with the impression that all is well with British typography and 
book design. Formulas that were fresh thirty years ago are being end- 
lessly repeated and thus have grown stale. Too often we miss the 
polish and attention to detail which would at least redeem them as 
pieces of good workmanship if not as inspired examples of design. 

The outward appearance is often deceptive, for, obedient to the 
general trend towards more and more ekborate packaging, the dust- 
jackets are colourful and often ingenious. Sometimes they are signed 

62 



PAGES DESIGNED TO PLEASE 

by artists of considerable stature as painters who were evidently given 
a completely free hand in the approach to their task. The wealth of 
modern display type-faces is occasionally used with skill, more rarely 
with brilliance, and there are a few designers with a flair for fine letter- 
ing which has its roots in the past but flowers freely in the present. This 
having been said, it must at once be pointed out that the hand-lettering 
on hundreds of jackets, year in, year out, is lamentably inept laborious 
imitations of type-faces abound, and much pretentious and tasteless 
Kitsch is served up. Foreign visitors to Britain often remark on the 
quality of our lettering on buildings and shop fronts and imply that 
we have an inborn feeling for such things. What is displayed on book 
jackets would seem to prove that we are credited with something 
owned by only a handful of letterers whose work stands out among a 
plethora of mediocrity. 

Casting a sidelong glance at paperbacks, at present proliferating 
with vigour, we may perceive that in spite of the blatant vulgarity of 
many pictorial designs the problem of covers is at last being tackled 
seriously by some publishers. Few, as yet, can rival the remarkable 
sophistication and creative skill that has been applied to the covers of 
American egghead paperbacks in recent years, though a new genus of 
cover, neither rigidly typographic nor luridly pictorial but of a forth- 
right graphic quality, is beginning to emerge. Evidently their pub- 
lishers are aware of the need for a certain sharpness and immediacy in 
this field of impulse-buying. It is here rather than among conventional 
book jackets that we may look for the most striking developments. It 
will be interesting to see whether, as in the United States, the craze for 
brightness and gloss will overreach Itself. For the moment, alas, plain 
matt surfaces are out and varnish or lamination in, with little regard 
for the comfort of the reader. 

Both in the materials used and in their design and execution bindings 
suffer because of the need to spend so much money on jackets and yet 
prevent the price of books rising beyond what It is thought the public 
will tolerate. True, the British book, compared with Its equivalent in 
America, Germany, or Italy, is still cheap, but only because of its 
generally austere, utilitarian form of dress. Simplicity as such is no 
fault; indeed it suits the national temperament and can be in welcome 
contrast to much that is perhaps a litde garish and ostentatious else- 
where. Yet the greater the simplicity and this applies particularly to 

63 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

publishers' bindings the greater the need for refinement in the choice 
of lettering, type sizes, spacing, and. placing. This, however, is lacking 
more often than not, and one is left with an impression of shoddiness 
and indifference. Certain proprietary materials other than bookcloth, 
perfectly adequate in themselves, are now in such common use that it 
is high time they ceased to be embossed in imitation of cloth. It is not 
suggested that anybody is really deceived; but is cloth-grained paper 
any more defensible than walls painted to look like wood or concrete 
grooved like stone? Honesty in the use of materials is fundamental to 
all good design, and the cased binding is no exception. Some publishers 
take no part in this mild form of pretence and instead are experiment- 
ing with decoration in ink or foils that owes little to tradition. A few, 
moreover, treat lettering with the respect it deserves, and resist the 
temptation to cheesepare by refusing to use imitation gold foil on 
books of a price where the resultant saving on production costs is 
insignificantly small. 

Tools and materials influence, though we have come to learn that 
they do not govern, design. The typographer's principal tool will 
always be good type. A truism perhaps; but how can he carry out his 
task with poorly designed type? No amount of ingenuity can overcome 
such a handicap, for 'aesthetics make a difference*, whatever may be 
said by psychologists on the many complex factors that have a bearing 
on legibility. These are not vintage years in British book design a fact 
which makes it all the more gratifying to be able to record that no 
country can rival Britain in the wealth of fine type-faces historical 
revivals and new designs that have been put at the printer's and 
publisher's disposal during the past forty years. Indeed, the rest of the 
world using the roman alphabet is heavily in our debt, or, to be more 
exact, in the debt of one man, Mr. Stanley Morison, under whose 
inspired and inspiring guidance this transformation of the printed page 
has taken place. No apology is made for mentioning his name in a 
survey which is concerned with the general rather than the specific. 

At once it must be admitted that this splendid array of type-faces is 
not often put to the best use. The house styles of many publishers seem 
to have congealed so long ago that they take no account of what later 
precept has taught us. Good typography is made up of minutiae. The 
best type is spoilt by excessive spacing before colons, semicolons, 
exclamation and question marks; after opening quotes and before 

64 



PAGES DESIGNED TO PLEASE 

closing ones; and after full stops. The potential beauty of the title-page 
is endangered by carelessly uneven letter-spacing, by unduly large 
word-spacing, and by leading which not only offends against aesthetic 
principles but often also those of simple logic, if this sounds school- 
masterly and pedantic, we can learn from a study of books in some 
countries on the Continent that these things are ordered better over 
there. To trace the reasons for this discrepancy is not easy. It may be 
that German or Swiss printers have not yet turned themselves quite 
so much into contractors who take little interest in, and do not endeav- 
our to influence, the style of what they produce. Even more important, 
by contrast with the countries mentioned, there are too few heads of 
British publishing firms who care passionately for the finer details of 
good typography and who, though they themselves may not have the 
time or equipment to deal with such matters, take determined steps to 
employ well-trained and talented typographers. 

If first editions of novels should perhaps be looked at tolerantly, the 
collected works of established authors must bear sterner examination. 
A few of them, for instance Proust and Aldous Huxley, are fortunate 
in that they have received sympathetic treatment. But the standard 
editions of many others Dostoevsky, Maugham* E. M. Forster, 
Kipling, D. H. Lawrence among them belie the respect and admira- 
tion their writers command and show a strange lack of disoitnination 
by publishers and collectors alike. Definitive editions, intended for sale 
over many years, deserve the highest level of typography. They should 
be an obligation, and a yardstick by which the great mass of day-to- 
day pubhshing can be measured. 

It is in the field of scholarly printing that British book production 
can point to achievements on a broad front not easily matched any- 
where else. The two great University Presses have grafted on to their 
ancient traditions of learning the branch of fine typography. Though 
the types may only occasionally be those brought from the Low 
Countries to Oxford by Bishop Fell, or those of Baskerville, who was 
associated with Cambridge, they characterize the individual style of 
the two Presses. Oxford leans towards masculine vigour, apparent in 
design as well as presswork, while Cambridge excels by its light touch, 
its clarity, and the elegance with which it can endow even the most 
complicated scientific treatise. Nothing could be more enlightening 
than a comparison of their two versions of the Order of Service for the 

F 65 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 ; and it is difficult to see how 
the design of Bibles, and other ecclesiastical printing, which calls for 
a rare combination of typographic scholarship and aesthetic perception, 
could be in better hands. 

There are two fairly recent developments which make an appraisal 
of typographic style in this country increasingly difficult. One is the 
frequency with which books originally produced in America are now 
reprinted here by offset-lithography, with only minor changes which 
are often done in a rather haphazard manner. The other is the growth 
of international art-book publishing which often results in volumes 
whose components were printed in two or three different countries and 
allows no certainty about who should be credited with the overall 
control of design and layout. Even those puzzled by the phenomenon 
of the boom, in art books will admit that such works more than any- 
thing else exploit the full scope of modern production techniques and 
the freedom of design thus made possible. As in architecture, a style 
has begun to develop which knows no national boundaries and in 
which, at its best, the Neue Sachlichketi first postulated by members of 
the Bauhaus group is combined with a heightened sense for dramatic 
juxtaposition and dynamic layout. 

There are some gifted graphic designers of the new school, mostly 
still in their twenties or thirties, whose work can be seen over the 
imprint of a few publishers of books particularly on art and architec- 
ture, with strongly held views on what twentieth-century typography 
should be like. It can be expected that this young generation, which 
has a clear preference for working on a free-lance rather than a salaried 
basis, will be given increasing opportunities for applying its talents and 
technical acumen to the latent task of transforming the text-book, the 
popular book on science in short all that mass of informative litera- 
ture, often more image than word which will be one of the features 
of the next decades. It may well be that the ebullient paperback will 
pioneer such developments. Already it has shown that, owing to its 
very different costing structure (layout and design being fixed charges 
which become less significant die larger the edition printed), it can 
afford to give at least as much attention to questions of typography 
and design as its elder, the bound book. 

The printing industry seems to be on the brink of changes which 
may rival, in ultimate effect, the invention of printing itself. The 

66 



PAGES DESIGNED TO PLEASE 



printed book, to begin with, was patently modelled on the work of the 
scribes, but within a short time had developed its own canons. Those 
remained virtually unchallenged for nearly 500 years, but a challenge 
may now be imminent and British imagination will have to prove 
itself equal to it. 



67 



CHILDREN'S BOOKS 



The Large Youthful Appetite for Magic 
and Fantasy 



The past ten or fifteen years have shown a prodigious increase in 
the number and range of published books for the young but 
to look for any easy parallel between adult and children's 
literature over this period would be rash indeed. To be sure, there is 
a shelf of science-fiction at the junior library, and another, rapidly 
growing, of biography. Non-fiction of all kinds is admirably repre- 
sented. But these are deliberate matters, designed in a publisher's 
office; we must look further to find where the natural course of inven- 
tion still however fitfully and erratically flows. 

Certainly the odd conditions of children's writing must affect the 
work of all but the real originals. For one thing, the very field in which 
adult novels find their richest material the field of human relation- 
ships with all the attendant emotions appears to be closed to modern 
juvenile fiction. For another, there can be no real avant garde among 
readers. The advanced and sophisticated simply move earlier to the 
adult shelves. Very likely, the most audacious experiments in text and 
pictures are to be found in the youngest nursery books; here conven- 
tions are not yet fixed; moreover, the three or four-year-old infant, not 
yet purged of its natural surrealism, still has most of its contacts with 
the adult world rather than with that of its illiberal fellow child. But 
with these, no less, the peculiar situation prevails. Children's books are 
readlyy the young, but are written (and published, reviewed and bought) 
by the adult. What a strange product it is, that the writers (generally 
speaking) are unable to read, and the readers (generally speaking) 
unable to write! 

68 



THE LARGE YOUTHFUL APPETITE FOR MAGIC AND FANTASY 

Yet It is clear that, between child-reader and adult narrator a rela- 
tionship must exist. It does, and it is on its shifting, uneasy balance 
that the mood of fiction depends. A hundred years ago, to take a con- 
venient date, when there were fewer pleasurable 'escape* alternatives 
to books, a storyteller of quality needed to make no concessions in 
vocabulary; pious, didactic or personally tendentious material could 
freely run through the plot. The Water Babies, surviving today for all 
its extraordinary crotchets, is a valuable example to study. In our own 
time, by contrast, the average, not very gifted professional writer sur- 
renders at every point. Language, especially, must be simplified; 
authority of idea must not in any way be hinted at. The reader must 
be tempted with what he desires but what is that? Does even the 
reader know? 

It is true that sophistication conies earlier in modem conditions, but 
children as children really change very little from age to age. They 
are, however, extremely suggestible, and will readily shift their 
standards and demands when the chance occurs. What many timorous 
adults forget is that a writer, like a popular comedian, creates his 
audience; the audience adapts itself to the performer's idiosyncrasy. 
This by no means applies only at the highest imaginative levels. Dip- 
ping into the lower fictional waters, we may gaze for a moment at an 
absurdity such as the Billy Bunter saga. Monstrous as most non- 
addicts must find it, it is at least the author's personal conception, 
language and all; and to the hammering insistence of this it surely 
owes its success. The moral is that a basically readable book is far more 
likely to survive if it has been written to please the author than to meet 
the limited tastes of an imagined readership. 

In the ordinary run of children's fiction holiday adventure and 
such that lesson has not been very well realized during the past decade 
or two. Depressed observers may note that at least one blown-out 
'popular' reputation is actually based on the negative and conciliatory 
qualities of the author's work. A further glance will show, however, 
that in this same period a number of really notable books have appeared 
that seem to be unaware of all the current conventions and taboos. The 
classics of our own, as of earlier, times belong to the old eccentric 
English tradition, inclining to magic and fantasy: often (as for instance 
with Carroll) involving the acrobatics of language. High in this queer 
impressive contemporary list is J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobblt (which 

69 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

later led to his extraordinary piece of invented mythology The Lord 
of the Rings) t a saga of dwarfs, elves and kindred subterranean creatures. 
C. S. Lewis's Narnia stories journeys of modern children in a vast 
allegorical fairyland are akeady among the classics. Mr. Lewis, in 
particular, stops short at nothing: love, hate, evil, fear, religion, 
violence, death. 

Another exceptional work is T. H. White's The Sword in the Stone, 
a brilliant and audacious retelling of the Arthurian legend. On a 
smaller scale, Mary Norton's invented domestic myth, The Borrowers, 
should be mentioned a chronicle of miniature household creatures 
made and behaving in the household human image. Tom's Midnight 
Garden by Philippa Pearce tells, with a strange quality of tension, of a 
boy transported, night by night, to the childhood time of an old lady's 
recollection. The Eagle of the Ninth, perhaps the best of Rosemary 
SutclifFs remarkable historical novels, recounts the search, in Roman 
Britain, for the tracks of a vanished legion. The Fair to Middling, by 
Arthur Gaidar-Marshall, is allegory again: here orphanage children 
are faced with the wrestle of good and evil at a fair. A Swarm in May by 
William Mayne is about singing boys at a cathedral choir school, and 
the personal decision of one. It has to be noted, of course, that almost 
all these books are, in setting at least, outside the contemporary day-to- 
day world. Many of them could have been written at any other time 
than our own. 

A further look might be taken at William Mayne, the last name on 
the list. He is the only writer so far mentioned whose imagination 
seems fulfilled without history or fantasy. And yet, in a way his themes 
are as traditional as any. Mr. Mayne is a mannered writer, and even 
when his moves are familiar the performance is still very well worth 
watching. He is a stylist; a reader needs a fairly agile attention to follow 
both talk and tale. A few assorted children and an adult or two in a 
village or country town are his usual persons; the plot is almost always 
a variation on the time-honoured treasure-hunt theme: but the quest 
may be for the meaning of a legend, for a hidden spring of water or 
evidence of history, some tracing into the roots of the past which has 
an intention for today. The Member for the Marsh, The Rolling Season, 
The Thumbstkk are excellent instances both of his manner and manner- 
isms; how lie cuts across the usual age divisions (big boys, little girls, 
farmers, parents all have a share in the tale) ; how skilfully he adapts 

70 



THE LARGE YOUTHFUL APPETITE FOB. MAGIC AND FANTASY 

the old feudal machinery for the plot, while changing its implications; 
how irritating, too, his elliptical dialogue can sometimes be. But he 
does bring back significance to writing itself; he does show too (most 
pointedly in A Swarm in May) how plot may arise from character and 
is, essentially, contained in it. 

Poetry itself that is, poetry designed for the young is rarely 
attempted today. The very idea is an anomaly after all; where conscious 
receiving limits are set the result can hardly be anything else than 
pastiche, or versified prose. But in all these possible classics of our time, 
in the work of White and Lewis and Mayne and others, there is a 
latent poetry the quality that ensures that a book will be read again, 
and something new discovered in it. Sometimes this is held in a situa- 
tion, a scene, a face, a passage of dialogue; always in the use of the 
words themselves. And if the old heroic note of the ballad never sounds 
in verse, it can still be heard, a little less simple, a little less clear in 
sound, perhaps, in the historical novel. 

This the historical novel is, indeed, the one field where the line 
between adult and childish fiction can thin to nothing. Anguish, battle 
and death, ancient injustices and human dilemmas, these can hardly be 
excluded; nor, in the modern historical terms, the questions of tyranny 
and oppression behind the splendour. Even the bravado of heroics now 
rarely appears as an end in itself. This is a new move, of course, arising 
out of the almost moral compulsion today towards scholarship, facts 
and analysis of causes; sometimes, instead of running counter to that 
lazy and conservative romanticism which lurks at all times in the 
native imagination, it seems to unite with it. But the change is import- 
ant. Until no more than thirty years ago the French Revolution, the 
Jacobite rising and our own Civil War provided a continual fictional 
battleground in which only one side had a case. Bonnie Charlie's 
cause has even now a tenacious fictional life, 

Geofirey Trease's Bows Against the Barons (1934) marks a turning 
point in the presentation of history. Writers today no longer dismiss 
the motives of rebellion; the peasant, French or English, is allowed at 
last his say at least, in the better books of the genre. These authors, 
moreover, are boldly leaving the usual costume-periods for less 
charted country. In The Hills of Varna and The Crown of Violet Geoffrey 
Trease turns to Ancient Greece. Cynthia Harnett's The Load of Unicom 
reanimates the problems of Caxton and the scriveners. Henry Treece 

71 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

sails grimly along with the Vikings. The most inspired of all the 
modem historical writers is probably Rosemary Sutdiff, who passion- 
ately transports herself into a chosen period and presents it with un- 
sparing vividness. Roman and Saxon Britain are her particular fields 
today (after more conventional beginnings) and in her forceful, com- 
pelling books there is clearly no tempering of facts and language for 
an imagined reader. 

One advantage of the bygone time is that it seems to offer a wilder, 
richer, less limited action than the routines of our current daily life. 
But approach too near to the present day and the privilege goes. 
Stories set in Regency or Victorian England have often an oddly 
artificial air; while a medieval narrative, like Hilda Lewis's recent and 
excellent Here Comes Harry, seems perfectly convincing. On the other 
hand, Barbara Ker Wilson's sociological novels about near-history 
anything in the past fifty years or so open a new and promising field. 
Her latest The Lovely Slimmer, touches the suffragette movement and 
the First World War. Perhaps it does not belong in this section at all, 
but an unexpectedly triumphant experiment in domestic Victorian 
fiction a thing almost impossible to do without the boring effect of 
pastiche is Gillian Avery's The Warden $ Niece, with its sequel James 
without Thomas. The attraction of these witty and ingenious tales lies 
partly in the plot but still more in the verve of the writing itself. But 
they are admittedly for an educated taste. 

New patterns of fiction continue to start and grow: we continue to 
look at them hopefully. A good deal of narrative energy is used on. the 
'career* novel, for instance a post-war genre with an almost ritual 
pattern, describing a boy's or girl's initiation, by way of training or 
apprenticeship, into a chosen profession. The theme of work, in its 
daily detail, has inspired some of the greatest of novelists. But, alas, the 
material that animated Zola (or, indeed, Charlotte Bronte) produces 
little in any way memorable or original. One is always conscious, of 
course, of the shadow of 'policy* hovering overhead still, it is hard 
not to wonder why almost all of these plentiful books fall short of the 
living quality. As for the old-time school story, that purely English 
fantasy has dwindled almost to nothing. In spite of its formalized 
jargon and situations, this quaint and ardent genre had a certain virtue: 
it was the last repository of the emotional situation. Jealousy, hope, 
betrayal, loyalty, love and doubt these ever raged in the miniature 

72 



THE LARGE YOUTHFUL APPETITE FOR MAGIC AND FANTASY 

world behind the niullioiied windows. The more formidable writers 
seem never to have touched the genre. What might not Miss Sutcliff, 
turning aside from her loyalty-torn Roman exiles, her gashed warriors 
and chain-galled slaves, have made of it? 

The most significant fictional move might seem an obvious one. 
We have akeady noted the attempt to break away from the feudal 
dream in novels of history. Now, however creakingly done, a vigorous 
effort is being made to shift the social centre of modern fictional life. 
Only nowl a non-reader of children's books might well remark, 
astonished to learn that the ancestral Grange, with priest-hole, lost will 
and hidden jewel-hoard still makes an annual appearance. In adult 
novels the proletarian setting is firmly enough established; the typical 
young (adult) novelist today is far more often an Alan SilHtoe than an 
L. P. Hartley or an Anthony Powell. The child's world moves more 
slowly. Feudal conditions do provide certain obvious narrative ten- 
sions and a comforting atmosphere: an uninventive writer is not 
inclined to part with them in a hurry. Change the ordered traditional 
concepts and the whole emphasis of the tales must change as well* Of 
course, a win in the Pools could replace the sudden inheritance, but 
fictionally it is no substitute. The tempo, for one thing, is wrong. It is 
the quest, not the anti-climax of spending that provides the conven- 
tional drama. The ritual weekly filling of forms might interest one of 
our current symbolic playwrights, but the drama is too static for 
juveniles. 

In the unidealized setting of daily life, with its busy, grating, ignoble 
problems, the fictional hero has to begin again. The chance is here, at 
least, for the interest to return to the characters themselves, and this has 
happened, up to a point, in the best of the day-school stories (written by 
professionals such as Geoffirey Trease, Fielden Hughes, and Stephen 
Tring). No one except Mr. Mayne, perhaps has yet reached the 
quality of The Fifth Form at St. Dominic s in the matter of personalities; 
but the writer's own uncertainty about his audience is partly, as usual, 
to blame. Still, it is interesting to see that the most cherished of Anglo- 
Saxon attitudes, the old imperial and military heroics, for instance, do 
not die so hard after all. But there are other traditional attitudes which 
remain, and comedy is one. E. W. Hildick's lively annals of working- 
class boys, the Jim Starling series, are among the most successful attempts 
to offer a supposedly rough and reluctant reader, the secondary modem 

73 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

schoolboy, a new set of fictional values, placed wholly in the social 
level he knows. The reliance, inevitably, is on brisk incident and comic 
exchange, and the publishers do the useful and practical author no 
service in suggesting that 'Jim Starling and his friends may be Britain's 
answer to Huckleberry Finn. Why? The question has already been 
answered in this essay. 

Sometimes an unusually imaginative tale is struck out, using the 
same personnel more perceptively: Anne Barrett's Songberd's Grove 
comes to mind. A Man o the House by Allan McLean strikingly uses 
the farming-fishing world of the Western Isles. Meanwhile the number 
of Secondary Modern boys and girls who join the contemporary 
fictional cast continues to grow. Sometimes the home background 
leads to a revival of the family story, a genre which requires some 
effort, maybe, in writing but which almost invariably pleases. Noel 
Streatfield's The Bell Family (vicarage children: poor but well-bred) 
at present leads in this field. But muffled as they are in this attractive 
saga, the feudal echoes still sound. One early (1937) and isolated work- 
ing-class tale, The Family from One-End Street, has long had a senti- 
mental popularity; there are signs now that authors will work again on 
this characteristic mood. Homely emotional comedy that's an idea ! 
And so production goes on. It should be said that the French (Paul 
Berna for instance) can move to these social levels more naturally and 
with no loss of style. 

What is the picture, then? Uneven, shifting, paradoxical: a conflict 
of intention and desire. The youthful reader's imagination rejects the 
vague and whimsical but is readily fired (in fiction or out) by fact the 
working detail of history, science, aeronautics, zoology, archaeology, 
criminal law and various forms of sport. Good. But writing itself, the 
power of using the word, has declined, which is bad. And nothing has 
replaced the old-time ballast of ethics and ideas. At the same time, 
fantasy (ranging from witchcraft to space-travel) maintains the 
traditional hold it has had in this country since Beowulf and the earliest 
Celtic myths. This need not be thought inconsistent: magic, it can be 
argued, is also a science of its kind. Where the average professional 
writer fails is in courting the reader too anxiously; he can please for 
the moment, but nothing he writes in this spirit is likely to last. How- 
ever startling the story, is any novel using only a timid and conciliatory 
(though 'popular',) vocabulary expressing only timid and conciliatory 

74 



THE LARGE YOUTHFUL APPETITE FOR MAGIC AND FANTASY 

(though 'popular') judgments ever read more than once? The genuinely 
gifted writers succeed by or in spite of breaking all the fashionable 
rules, both in the range of words and in the dangerous matter of 
thought. 

A stranger might reasonably ask if the leading English poets and 
novelists turn their attention at all to children's fiction. They do or do 
not: it hardly matters. For unless they are truly equipped for the task, 
the result has all too often a condescending or falsely jovial air, which 
an adult may find amusing, but a sensible child will resent. The few 
great children's writers, whether of yesterday or today, turn to the 
genre because it is natural for them to do so. In almost every case they 
have, preserved in them, a secret obstinate streak of resistance to adult 
life. They may (like Nesbit and Andersen) resent the reputation they 
acquire. They may have little real contact with children. A particular 
child is often the apparent occasion for a tale (The Wind in the Willows, 
Treasure Island, Alice, The Water Babies), but even this means little. 
Nothing except mechanical stuff is ever really written to, only from, 
It is no proof of quality that the manuscript tale was enjoyed when 
read to the reader's family at home. Children at the listening stage will 
accept almost any spoken offering with enjoyment, partly for the 
incantatory sound, partly for the flattery of personal address. The 
greatest writers for children often have not, intrinsically, cared for chil- 
dren at all. Barrie was ill at ease with girls they are terribly castigated 
as matron-images in his books ; Carroll could rarely tolerate boys. Even 
with the congenial gender, each had exact and limiting views about 
age and class. Andersen rejected a statue in which children were shown 
clustering around his shoulders; E. Nesbit, though a frequent parent, 
had (her own daughters relate) a very uncertain talent for the role. She 
wrote not for the young who came after her but looking back, as all 
of them do who touch the level of genius, for the persistent and un~ 
appeased childhood spirit lodged in her adult self. Writers for children 
today, whose biographies are still unwritten, may take this as they will: 
they should remember, though, that beneath the level of genius the 
conditions no longer obtain. 



75 



CINEMA 



The Screen Holds the Eye 



| r~\e British cinema has always been, and still is, conformist and 
I class-bound to a degree. This means that it is practically 

JL impossible to extend the range of British films beyond the 
limits of what is, to the middle-class mind, orthodox, respectable and 
"nice"/ Thus wrote last year Mr. Lindsay Anderson, who holds strong 
views on the function of films and on the importance of being 
'committed*. 

Before, however, joining in and enlarging on Mr. Anderson's 
attack, the critic, however anxious to be up and at 'em, will, if he is 
fair-minded, pause and ask himself to what degree British films should 
be held responsible for reflecting national characteristics : for being, in 
fact, what they cannot help being. The strong strain of revolutionary 
instinct that runs through the British character is seldom recognized 
for what it is simply because, although the ends it attains represent 
changes which are violent indeed, the means by which it achieves 
them are not. To proclaim that the cutting off of Charles Ts head was 
rai-Engh'sh is not to make a joke but to proclaim a profound and 
important truth. It was indeed so un-English that it shocked us out of 
aay inclination ever to do such a thing again, and, when the time came 
for the Stuarts finally to go, another means was found, 

The post-war revolution and the creation of the state as it is today 
were actions just as radical as those which convulsed France at the end 
of the eighteenth century, the difference being that the work was 
carried through by the ballot box instead of the guillotine. All this is, 
of course, trite and obvious enough, but it needs to be said when the 
expression of the English or, for the purpose of convenience, although 

76 



THE SCREEN HOLDS THE EYE 

the two are by no means the same, the British character, as it mani- 
fests itself through the medium of the arts, is attacked. Again, it is the 
custom of the British artist to make his attacks on the Establishment 
and on established values from within rather than without. The 
savagery of the assaults of Dickens on the social evils of his time is not 
so dramatic as, for instance, the self-consciously theatrical stand taken 
by Zola in the Dreyfus case. Dickens was a novelist the middle-class 
mind had accepted, and this contrived to make him. seem 'orthodox, 
respectable and "nice" '. Perhaps his novels were, on close analysis, 
none of those things, but they were so contrived and the whole 
make-up of the man, in many ways a typical Englishman, so devised 
it that the shocks they gave to the conformist, class-bound mind 
were a part of the general delight. It accepted from him what it would 
have rejected from a self-proclaimed rebel. Yet Dickens is as great a 
social reformer as Zola ever was. 

Then, nearly forty years ago, Mr. E. M. Forster wiote in A Passage 
to India an oblique and ironic comment on British rule in India. It was 
not a direct attack yet it had all the implications of one, and, once again, 
it was written from within, from within the walls that shelter those 
who like art and life to be orthodox, respectable and nice. No one 
would have then and no one would today equate A Passage to India with 
a revolutionary pamphlet, but it was nevertheless evidence enough of 
that non-conforming, questioning, ironic, radical inclination which 
runs through the country from the highest to the lowest and is to be 
found in the baronial hall as well as in the workers' institute. 

If the genius of the British race is for the oblique approach, for a 
middle-class way of achieving revolutionary ends, how can its films be 
blamed for following the course dictated by the national character? 
And then there is another aspect of the matter that deserves attention. 
The cinema is a new invention and its first flickerings are part of the 
memories of multitudes who are still on the right side of old age. 
Further, that small span of life must be cut in half, for in its earliest 
years it was, and, indeed, it considered itself to be, little more than a 
toy, a 'turn*, as it were, and not an important one, in a music-hall 
programme. Films- on the level of Rescued by Rover made no claim to 
reflect or represent anything under the sun, and it is necessary to take 
a big jump forward in time before a British film that had any other 
purpose than to amuse is encountered. 

77 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

And, even so, It would be absurd to claim too much for The Private 
Life of Henry Fill It was a highly commercial work, made for com- 
mercial ends, but there was a hint of a finer purpose about it. For those 
whose idea of history was a procession of kings and queens in their 
ceremonial robes, it gave the unfamiliar notion that they were, 
after all, men and women with human appetites and failings. The 
film was not history, yet it made history seem something other 
than severe books never to be read and faded memories of tables of 
dates. 

The war, of course, gave our directors the chance to show what they 
could do with the semi-documentary technique, but that is an old 
story now, as is the success of Ealing Studios in giving expression to that 
vein of whimsicality which runs through the English character and 
which we, if not others, find endearing. In general, however, the 
history of British films since the war has not been either an interesting 
or an eventful one, and we have not been able to plead that we lacked 
the actors and actresses to put flesh and bone on to our scripts. Our 
players were there those that were not in Hollywood, that is. The 
scripts were the weakness. 

Lately in the past year or so, that is there have been signs of a 
change towards a more healthy state of affairs, and for this a number of 
factors would seem to be responsible. In the first place, television has 
made the population as a whole more familiar with, and interested in, 
the sort of social problems which, so film producers had always 
argued, were not the kind of material out of which commercial enter- 
tainment could profitably be made. Perhaps the television talks, debates, 
quizzes and so on into matters which affect the man in the factory, the 
mines or the office, are superficial and only scratch the surface of their 
subjects, but at least that man is brought to recognize, and perhaps for 
the first time, that 'entertainment* can be something other than a 
succession of stale jokes or the playing of popular music. 

There is no greater fallacy than that which holds that the talking of 
*shop* is boring. It is, on the contrary, often the most stimulating and 
revealing of talk, and a man who knows aH there is to know about, 
say, process-welding is very much more worth listening to when he is 
on that subject than the person of sketchy general education holding 
forth on the American Presidential election when he could not, for the 
life of him, explain what a 'primary* is. 

78 



THE SCREEN HOLDS THE EYE 

It was a knowledge of this that Inspired the production of such films 
as I'm All Right, Jack and The Angry Silence, and, If the films themselves 
were not masterpieces, It took courage and vision to make them, They 
brought Into the business of British film making that element of social 
comment and satire as distinct from music-hall burlesque which has 
always been such a stranger to it, and at the same time, it presented 
the * working' classes, i.e., the class which works with its hands, as 
recognizable people rather than quaint theatrical types. And this, in Its 
turn, leads on to another consideration and to further evidence that the 
British film Is at last widening Its scope and Its horizons. Class-con- 
sciousness Is an abiding, dominating feature in the English landscape, 
and things, as Mr. Kingsley Amis for one has demonstrated, have not 
changed since the founding of the welfare state. In some ways, indeed, 
quite the contrary, and so the appearance on the screen of Look Back 
in Anger and Room at the Top again had an importance that was greater 
than the sum of the merits of the films themselves. 

Not that those merits are inconsiderable. The fact that Mr. John 
Osborne Is a highly articulate writer Is too often overlooked by those 
prepared to discuss him In only the loosest of generalizations, and it 
was this artlcukteness which won the film its popularity and acclaim. 
Mr. Osbome and Mr. Brain are writers, and while, of course, then- 
directors did their share and did It very well, the films were writers* 
films and, as such, they conquered. 

It is here that a new hope opens out for British films and the sign- 
posts to the future are clear to read. For a long time, until indeed the 
coming of the wide screen, Cinemascope and all the rest of It, those 
who most loved the cinema were the most suspicious of the spoken 
word. They looked back to the days of the silent film as the time when 
the cinema was 'pure* and had the right to consider itself an art. When 
sound came there had to be someone and that someone often turned 
out to be a gaggle of highly paid and well-known authors who lived 
lives of incredible frostratiaa and fantasy to write the lines the 
*stars* had to speak, but those lines were treated as of little account and 
aE that mattered was the director and his cast. Cinemascope, however, 
imposed limits: on the director and, with the camera forced for long 
periods of time into inactivity, words began to assume an added 
importance it is something of a paradox that the extremes of the 
sizes of tie screen, tie monsters of the modem cinema and the little 

79 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

rectangle of the television box, should both have played their part in 
raising the status of the author. 

The 'new wave' in the French cinema has its impulse in the work 
and ideas of writers, and now Britain herself is to experience something 
of the same sort, but within the framework of our own traditions. An 
article in a recent number of Sight and Sound gave impressive evidence 
of the way our film producers are looking to contemporary literary 
talent for material. Mr. Osbome, who had a hand in the film script of 
The Entertainer, has planned an original screen play, while Mr. Alan 
Sillitoe has finished his adaptation for the screen of Saturday Night and 
Sunday Morning. Mr. Arnold Wesker is, it is reported, planning a 
love story on 'the impossibility of the ivory tower situation', while 
a version of Lord of the Flies, by Mr. William Golding, who is 
one of our most exciting novelists, is to be directed by Mr. Peter 
Brook. 

Here, then, is a sample of the kind of films that British companies are 
to make and British audiences to see, and it is a programme which 
would not be possible unless there was a change in the general climate 
of opinion. Two considerations, although they are generally subjects 
for abuse, must here not be neglected. Distributors seem a little more 
adventurous and less suspicious in their attitude, and then there is the 
influence that critics exercise. There is a formidable amount of non- 
sense talked and written on this particular subject. At one extreme 
stand those who profess to believe that critics can, and frequently do, 
'kill* films and, as often as not, out of pique; at the other are massed the 
upholders of the doctrine that they are little more than publicists in 
the pay of various companies and that what they write is not of any 
importance anyway. 

It is doubtful, to say the least of it, whether critics, whatever their 
motives, could 'kill' any film, although the critics in the national news- 
papers may influence the fate of films during their West End run. 
What is, perhaps, beginning to happen is that a critical acclaim for 
films with intelligent themes made against the grain, as it were, of the 
prejudices of those moneyed interests in the industry which tend auto- 
matically to underrate the tastes of the public, can put heart into those 
who believe that a flourishing cinema need not be a cinema geared to 
the lowest common denominator. Independent companies formed by 
men who have something to say are encouraged by generous criticism, 

So 



THE SCREEN HOLDS THE EYE 



and not only is that criticism forthcoming but it, in its turn, is becom- 
ing more and more respected. 

The old gibe that critics are those who have failed to create still has 
its pointj but that \vord of mouth*, grapevine, drunis-in-the-jiingle 
land of comment which is so important in the theatre is now at work 
ia the cinema and often enough it has its origins in what the critics 
have written. It is and a good thing too no longer always true that 
all publicity is good publicity and that abuse is the best of all. That may 
still apply to the kind of film that courts an *X* certificate and hopes for 
a brush with the censor^ but not to the respectable film that wants only 
to be judged by a fair and objective jury and that today is the kind of 
jut}' it gets a jury which, if it has a bias, inclines towards over rather 
than under-praising. 

The climate, then, is favourable to legitimate risks being taken in the 
cause of a cinema that will find its material in the current social scene 
and in the literature that is being written about it. The theatre is finding 
the trend to be away from the kind of inconsequent, light-hearted 
comedy typified by The Reluctant Debutante and, while that is not 
necessarily a good thing inconsequent light comedy frequently 
proving to be the product of a highly civilized society it does give 
those more interested in substance than in style their chance. *It [the 
theatre] is the only art that expresses the moment for the common 
people, many of whom are not highly trained enough to appreciate 
the most extreme modern music or painting/ Thus Dame Sybil 
Thorndike a little time ago, and she might well have qualified that 
'only art' by including the cinema. It, too, can express the moment for 
the common people. 

One more factor must be considered, and that is the censorship. 
Although defending that institution is seldom either popular or reward- 
ing work, it has done well enough in the past and is by no means so 
narrow and bigoted as is popularly thought. The cinema, however, is 
growing up. Even the British cinema is growing up to the point when 
it can treat the story of Oscar Wilde in its proper terms and make a 
more or less faithful rendering of Sons and Lovers, and this process calls 
for a sympathetic response on the part of the censor. Sex is not the only 
sin, although sometimes the perverted popular slant on things seems, 
hypocritically, to make it out to be, and a liberal attitude towards the 
problems it inspires might well go hand in hand with a stricter 



81 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

determination to keep an eye on violence. The world would not have 
been a poorer place had Never Let Go, the thug film in which Mr. 
Peter Sellers was misguided enough to appear, been refused a licence. 

The cinema at once creates and reflects an image, and when it comes 
to insisting that the world in which we hve today is one of crime and 
violence it is doing its best to perform the first of those functions. It is 
a mistaken policy, the more mistaken since it is flying in the face of 
the evidence to the contrary. Of course there is crime; of course there 
is violence; of course youth is difficult and intolerant; yet the men and 
women in the changing and dangerous society of our times have other 
concerns that seem more real and immediate to them. The British 
cinema is showing signs that it is contemplating coming to what may 
pass for grips with them, although obstructionism still exists and 
disappointments may be in store. May it succeed it has, to adapt the 
words of that old jingoish song, it has the actors, it has the writers, and 
it may get the money. The news, however, that Hollywood is to pour 
^7,000,000 into British film production is ominous. The gesture may 
be generous, but foreign money, however tactfully used, is generally 
fatal to the development of a healthy, native art. 



TELEVISION 



A Growing Discrimination among Those 
Who Sit and Stare? 

A things are at present one could argue strongly that tele- 
vision's most valuable service to the community is in acting 
as the sump of the entertainment industries, draining off 
the stagnant routines of the stage and cinema and creating a situation 
in which the senior institutions must either improve or perish. Tele- 
vision in any society could scarcely evade this menial role altogether, 
for in every respect its qualifications are ideal. Technically it is more 
versatile than any other means of communication: its insatiable con- 
sumption of new material forces programme organizers to pad out 
their yawning schedules with indifferent work; and its existence is far 
less precarious than that of newspapers or the theatre audience ratings 
are certainly important, but their influence is not to be compared with 
that of box-office returns. And, considering the size of the audience, 
competition between two channels can hardly be called a cut-throat 
fight for survival. Survival is guaranteed, no matter to what hitherto 
uncharted depths the programmes may sink. 

Anyone relying on printed comment as a guide to the total output 
of the various networks would form an impression that English 
television consisted principally of interviews with the great, socio- 
logical inquiries, and revivals of established stage works. The com- 
mentators are not to be blamed for giving so incomplete a picture. The 
bulk of the programmes panel games, quiz shows, situation comedies, 
standardized hour-length playlets lies outside the scope of criticism. 
They are the breaxl and butter of television, as much a part of modem 
life as the post and the morning milk: they fulfil the human need to 
waste time, and nothing is to be gained by fulminating against it. 

83 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

But there Is one drawback. Television exists in a sealed continuum 
and snares large numbers of its audience into doing likewise. This 
makes discrimination difficult. Spot advertisements, news bulletins, 
variety shows, and plays are dovetailed together in such a way that the 
distinctions between them are obscured. It is significant that the 
dramatized documentary, one of the few forms originated by tele- 
vision, lends its" assistance to blurring the edges between illusion and 
reality. The effect need not be exaggerated: not even the most aban- 
doned addict is in any danger of mistaking a Western gun-battle for a 
news reel: the panic and indignation Associated-RedifTusion touched 
off two years ago by starting a play with a bogus news flash about a 
satellite over London only serves to demonstrate the rarity of such 
confusion. Less spectacular, the real trouble is television's insidious 
function as a snug bolt-hole into which the public can retire, less to be 
instructed or entertained than to have their senses deadened. The 
practice of internal parody, the intrusion of advertisements, the absence 
of marked transitions between programmes, the unchanging facade of 
soothing reassurance with which the service maintains its role as a 
dispenser of well-being these, and other audience-trapping devices, 
intensify the hot-house atmosphere, creating a bubble world, neither real 
nor imaginary, in which incompatibilities vanish and all things are equal. 

Those who succumb to the siren song have only themselves to blame, 
for the instrument itself cannot avoid inducing a state of semi-hypnosis 
in the passive spectator, and it is not to be expected that the rival net- 
works will put up much of a struggle against something that works so 
much to their advantage. Their greatest weakness is that they them- 
selves still fall under its spell, fascinated by the means of communication 
and indifferent to the matter. It is somewhat late in the day for tele- 
vision to exercise its once potent ju-ju as a technical marvel, and 
nowadays one could as easily make out a case for the telephone as an 
art form. All the same, the idea of the 'new medium* dies hard, and 
periodically for instance, in the threadbare variety show marking 
the completion of the B.B.C/s Television Centre the studios relapse 
into the narcissistic faith that their real claim on the public is their 
possession of a box of tricks. In fact, it has been demonstrated again 
and again that when productions go out of their way to 'exploit the 
medium's resources', bristling with examples of electronic inlay and 
overlay, back projection, and the other illusionist devices that figure 

84 



GROWING DISCRIMINATION AMONG THOSE WHO SIT AND STARE? 

so prominently in the industry's public relations literature, they break 
the spectator's comprehension and stifle imagination. 

The unequal tog-of-war between the artist and the industry is peren- 
nial, and the foregoing views on the subject make no claim to novelty. 
Restating them, however, may serve as a useful reminder. When 
television was launched in Britain after the war the fashionable attitude 
towards it was one of contempt. We have now swung over to the 
opposite extreme. Without going into the reasons (principally socio- 
logical) for the change, it is fair to say that it is now the smart thing to 
approve of television: to make a gesture of classlessness by whole- 
heartedly accepting the routine trash and cheerfully declaring oneself 
a slave to the * telly* ; to claim that television journalism excels that of 
serious newspapers, and that television plays outclass anything to be 
seen in the West End. The conditions of the industry make such 
attitudes nonsensical, and no one except the medium's most chauvin- 
istic partisans really believes in them they are part of the equipment 
of self-disparagement and modest philistinism with which the British 
middle classes (intellectuals more than most) confront the world. But 
the unanimous chorus of the plain man's point of view, from all 
quarters of opinion, cushions the television services from the kind of 
criticism they need and exposes them to types of disingenuous abuse 
they could well do without. 

Two examples of this are worth mentioning. Well aware both of the 
need for experiment and of the taboo that hedges in the word, the 
B.B.C. set up an organization called the Langham Group whose 
purpose never explicitly stated was to foster experimental drama. 
Their last production, a free adaptation of Thomas Mann's story Mario 
and the Magician, ventured far off the beaten track in its use of improvisa- 
tion and camera techniques. Dramatically it was a failure, but for 
anyone seriously interested in television production it opened exciting 
perspectives. But one would not have suspected this from reading the 
comments of the press: a howl of derision went up, fiercer than the 
most lavishly worthless variety show would have provoked. A similar 
greeting was reserved for the premiere of Sir Arthur Bliss's opera, 
Tobias and the Augel 9 television and music critics jointly slamming the 
door on a work which, at the lowest estimate, represented the deter- 
mined attempt of a good composer to make contact with a popular 
audience. In this situation, with the spokesmen of enlightened opinion 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

lining up with the tycoons and the rule of the ratings, it is no wonder 
that imaginative enterprise is a rarity: that when the better radio 
writers contribute scripts to television (a hopeful source of new drama, 
one would have supposed) they tend to jettison originality and turn 
out a standard commercial product. 

A few years ago there were signs both among practitioners and 
critics that the shaky aesthetics of television were on the point of 
hardening into a narrow, premature orthodoxy based on such ideas as 
'intimacy* (because of the small screen), and 'realism* (because of the 
camera's reputation as an infallible lie-detector). Apprised of the fact 
that screens were liable to outgrow their present dimensions, and faced 
with the undeniable effectiveness of certain programmes that, by no 
extension of meaning, could be called intimate or realistic (e.g., the 
Quatermass serials, and Mr. Rudolph Caitier's productions of large- 
scale opera), the aestheticians lost their self-confidence, and generaliza- 
tions about the 'range of the medium* went into a decline. At the 
time this was all to the good, for it let in some fresh air and gave tele- 
vision a better chance to expand in its own way. But as things stand now, 
withno consistent opponent of the 'damnedliberal maj ority*, no persistent 
gadfly (such as the Sound Broadcasting Society) to make a fuss in public 
and sting the networks out of their placid contentment, one wouldbe only 
too glad to see the re-emergence of a tough-minded group determined 
to show that television can do more than act as a popular soporific. 

It is individual talent, of course, not changes of policy, that is needed 
to bring this about. All the same, policy can help as one may see by 
narrowing the discussion to the drama output of the B.B.C. and the 
independent networks over the past year. 

In the field of revivals, Granada unearthed the Manchester play- 
wrights and presented their work in such a way that it acquired a sharp 
immediacy, progressively accumulating into something as substantially 
illuminating as a well-planned retrospective exhibition. The B.B.C., 
on the other hand, embarked on a broader series under the title 'Twen- 
tieth Century Theatre 5 which, in spite of its initially stated aim of 
giving a complete 'picture of the time', turned out to be no more than 
a pretext for reviving a miscellaneous selection of the past sixty years' 
drama: some of die plays were well chosen, others (Glorious Morning, 
Norman MacOwan's tantrum against Nazi Germany, for instance) 
would have been better left on the shelf, 

86 



GROWING DISCRIMINATION AMONG THOSE WHO SIT AND STARE? 

New drama lies less within the planner's scope, for he Is not respon- 
sible for the quality of work submitted to Mm. Nevertheless a marked 
divergence In policy still appears. The B.B.C.'s departures from harm- 
less family entertainment were infrequent; and those promising new- 
comers who did manage to get a showing without paying their respects 
to the corporation brand image rarely manage to perform this feat a 
second time. What has become of Mr. Troy Kennedy Martin, author 
of the extremely accomplished Incident at Echo Six two years ago? Or 
of Mr. John McGrath, who stirred up some excitement at last year's 
Edinburgh Festival with his play Why the Chicken? 

The independent networks, not withstanding their unpredictability 
and fondness for sensational material and production styles, seem to 
have a more tenacious instinct for recognizing and holding on to new 
talent. A. B.C. and Granada share a corps of young writers who have 
the rare gift of popular imagination which enables them to address a 
mass audience without any sacrifice of integrity. In the plays of Mr. 
CHve Exton, Mr. Peter Draper, Mr. Alun Owen and Mr. Peter 
Nichols, one discerns the beginning of a tradition in English television 
drama. It is conspicuously lacking in self-assertive protest. Its prevailing 
note is one of level-headed compassion, and its concern is more with 
understanding people than with judging them. What political sym- 
pathies It do<es contain stem from the left, but there is no sense of 
partisanship, explicit or suppressed. Its basic Idiom is realism (Mr. Owen 
works by improvising dialogue into a tape recorder) ; and from this 
foundation It Is capable of such astonishing exploits of the imagination 
as Mr. Exton's battlefield duologue between the dying, Hold My 
Hand, Soldier. 

Work of this quality will never be plentiful, and it is anything but 
characteristic of Channel 9*5 day-to-day output. What one hopes is 
that the companies will recognize that the big audiences are capable of 
telling the difference between a canned slugging match imported from 
America and a piece of writing that sets out to add something to their 
lives. There is evidence for this. Besides the fact that nowadays one 
can discuss a production of Man and Superman or Blood Wedding with 
people who in the past would never have spared a thought for Shaw or 
Lorca, there is the startling success A.B.C. achieved this year with 
their production of A Night Out* by Mr. Harold Pinter the last 
dramatist one would have thought likely to win over the big public; 

87 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

and yet it set up a record for drama by coming first in the T. A.M. list 
of the 'Top Ten*. 

Drama is not alone in proving the public's capacity for discrimina- 
tion. The lesson of the past few years has been that the barrier between 
prestige and popularity is largely a chimera, and may even turn out to 
be bad for business. No doubt, from the companies* point of view, 
there is nothing to pick between Wagon Train and Hancock's Half 
Hour if they attract audiences of the same size. But when the Hancock 
series is billed opposite The Army Game it becomes apparent from the 
ratings that the public are perfectly able to distinguish between creative 
comedy rooted in human experience and a competent knock-about 
designed to keep the admass tuned in. 

The credit for this discovery belongs to those practitioners who have 
had enough respect for their audience to reject both the abstract idea 
of the 'average viewer* and the more subtly insulting conception of 
broadcasting as an instrument of education for people who will never 
learn anything. One such pioneer is Mr. Denis Mitchell, whose severely 
objective documentary films for the B.B.C. (In Prison, Morning in the 
Streets, The Winds of Change] , have restored a Chekhovian quality to 
realism. Mr. Mitchell has rare abilities as an interviewer; he can make 
sympathetic contact with a cosh boy, a debutante, or an old lag, and 
persuade them to reveal themselves spontaneously. His shooting- 
scripts are based on conversation, the camera acting as a means of 
orchestrating the recorded speech. First-person commentary is cut to a 
bare factual minimum, and the material is shaped so as to speak for 
itself: the films owe their authenticity and artistic discipline to an 
internal manipulation of reality. What emerges from them is an 
intensely personal human sympathy, and a refusal to judge people as 
good or bad. There is a striking parallel between Mr. Mitchell's docu- 
mentaries and the television plays discussed earlier in this article. The 
affinity also appears in their approach to language which stems from a 
conviction that there is better English to be found in the streets than 
in any region of modern culture. 

This meeting-point between drama and documentary indicates the 
lines on which English television might develop undemiining class 
prejudice, strengthening the connexion between culture and experi- 
ence, and recognizing that people cannot be limitlessly debauched. 
The sacrifice of the bubble world wodd be a small price to pay for this. 

88 



RADIO 



A Time for Transmission 



/Vmong the thousands of pages of duplicated trivia which issue 

f\ each day from private companies and national corporations, 
JL. JL_ in the cause of 'public relations* presumably, every now and 
then one comes across a statement of interest not so much for what it 
says, which will generally be negligible, but for what it does not say. 
A whole world of ideas can spring unbidden from what information 
offices and press departments take so much for granted as to think it 
not worth remarking on. For instance, quite recently the BJB.C. put 
out this bulletin: 

It was with a short play for radio, The Dock Brief, first broadcast in the 
Third Programme in May, 1957, that John Mortimer made the play- 
writing reputation that he has since consolidated and developed on radio, 
stage and television. In the Third Programme . . . another brief play by 
John Mortimer will have its first broadcast. Unlike The Dtxk Brief, Lunch- 
Hour has not been specially written for radio: its author has adapted it 
from his stage play, which had already had several productions and is 
earmarked for future B.B.C. television production. 

The statement gives food for thought in several ways. It is only 
three years since we discovered Mr. Mortimer as a radio dramatist. In 
The Dock Brief and I Spy he showed himself as a writer with a remark- 
able grasp of the medium, able to write plays which were completely 
'radio* precise, concentrated, and intimate in their use of words, free 
yet disciplined in their form, and calling for a careful and sympathetic 
production, certainly, but no extraneous tricks of presentation to get 
across to the listener. We did not need to see Fowle and Morgenhall, 

89 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

or Mr. Frute and Mrs. Morgan: indeed, so subtle but pervasive was 
Mr. Mortimer's rearrangement and heightening of natural speech, to 
make his effect entirely through the ear that perhaps if we had seen 
them as well as heard them we might have found the effect, so unob- 
trusively right in sound alone, uncomfortably artificial and over- 
written (in fact, one did have something of this feeling with I Spy on 
television and The Dock Brief on stage, especially compared with David 
and Broccoli and What Shall We Tell Caroline? , Mr. Mortimer's original 
creations for the respective media, both of which carefully ai range 
things to achieve a more satisfactory balance between the aural and 
the visual). 

Two or three months ago, Mr. Mortimer was asked about his plans 
for the future. He said that he was giving up novel writing entirely, and 
hoped instead to write *one stage play and two television plays a 
year'. Radio was not mentioned, and though presumably, as in the case 
of Lunch Hour, he may adapt plays for other media to the radio, it 
seems unlikely that radio will ever again be an important part of his 
life as a dramatist. 

Well, why not? one might ask, and obviously there is no reason at 
all why a writer should not turn wherever he feels most at home and 
finds the most appreciative audience. Arguably What Shall We Tell 
Caroline? is his finest work in any medium, and undeniably the theatre 
and television can do with more writers of such eloquence and imagina- 
tion. The pity is that radio should appear to be taken, even by its own 
exponents, as the lesser medium, the training ground from which one 
moves on, and presumably up. This is not, one is sure, the way that Mr. 
Mortimer or others like him see it too much love and understanding 
of the radio's trials and wonders have gone into their work for that 
but perhaps, after all, they are only facing the inevitable when they 
move on from radio to other things, just as even those who believed 
most passionately in the art of the silent film had nevertheless to give 
in to the talkie or be left behind rallying pointlessly to a lost cause. 

And has not radio already served its purpose anyway? The silent 
film trained our eyes to see things in a new way, to understand drama 
constructed in a new form, but once it had done so it left the field clear 
for a new and fuller art, able to do with ease what the silent film had 
frequently done, if at all, only with the greatest difficulty. Admittedly, 
there might be one or two things the silent fjim could do better than 

90 



A TIME FOR TRANSMISSION 

the talkie, but taken all in all, the change was for the better. In the 
same way, perhaps, television is the natural replacement for radio: as 
the silent film had to stand on its head sometimes to convey things 
without resort to sound, it cannot be denied that often sound radio 
has the greatest difficulty in managing perfectly simple matters, like 
scene-setting and conveying the sort of emotion which can be made 
clear by a movement of the hand or a flicker of the eyelid, without 
recourse to vision. Does not television take away these difficulties 
automatically and offer more than adequate compensation for any 
incidental losses in the transition? 

Radio has changed our way of hearing things (now that plays are 
being written and films made by the first generation to come to radio 
in their childhood as one of the normal amenities of life, one has only 
to listen to the sound-track of a nouvelle vague film or listen to the 
dialogue of Mr. Harold Pinter, Mr. Clive Exton and Mr. Alun Owen, 
with its precise notation of the way people here and now really speak, 
to understand something of the revolution this single fact has brought 
about); but now this is done perhaps it can be tidied away with the 
pianola and the hansom cab to wherever honoured, outdated contrap- 
tions of the sort find a last resting-place. 

Even for the most purely practical, businesslike argument against 
such a hasty dismissal, we do not have to look very far. Radio is in 
most fields obviously cheaper than television, so that for things which 
in theory they can do equally well, or even that television can do 
fractionally better, it will still generally be radio which wins the day. 
In many interviews and almost all discussions ('Brains Trust 7 , *Any 
Questions', and so on) the visual side of the television presentation is 
extraneous: it may do no harm, but it certainly does little good at the 
best of times, and many politicians, for instance, have no doubt come 
to rue the day party political broadcasts ever left the relative security 
of the elder medium. Music is undeniably much more at home on radio 
than on television, whore the sort of camera movements devised toimpart 
visual interest to a concert which of necessity is intended overwhelm- 
ingly for the ear alone, or the elaborately contrived gyrations brought 
in to illustrate the popular hit records of the moment, distract without 



Instructional programmes can be fairly divided between the two 
media: a scientific demonstration or a lecture on art gains from visual 



91 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

presentation, while a philosophical dissertation or an historical recon- 
struction for schools would only suffer from the irrelevance of visuals 
to the one, and their inevitable insufficiency for the other. Radio can 
obviously fulfil the valuable function of providing a 'national repertory 
theatre of the air* much more economically and efficiently than tele- 
vision because, apart from anything else, the sheer cost of staging and 
costuming complete revivals of, say, Jacobean and Restoration trage- 
dies, or presenting whole seasons of works by Ibsen or Betti or Shaw, 
would be so crippling for television that it would be almost as im- 
practicable as doing the same in the commercial theatre. 

One could go on elaborating arguments of this sort, pointing to 
comedians, like Mr. Eric Barker with *Just Fancy', who have evolved 
a perfectly individual type of 'radio humour' which does not transfer 
satisfactorily to any other medium; speakers like Sir Arthur Grirnble 
or Sir Max Beerbohm who had the precise measure of that curiously 
beguiling formal-informality which is radio's peculiar contribution to 
the art of addressing an audience all giving evidence of radio's special 
advantages as a means of communication, and its rights to survival as 
such. As a business, as a public service, radio needs these arguments, 
and it as as well they come so easily and justifiably to hand, but they 
have little or nothing to do with the medium's right to survival as an 
independent art form, still worthy of the literary and dramatic artist's 
attention and able to make its own contribution to our imaginative 
life by exploring areas of human experience which are not comfortably 
within the province of any other form. Can it do so? Is it more than 
a rudimentary and incomplete medium, awaiting the completion of 
visuals before it can be regarded as worthy of serious attention? 

To answer these questions we must go back for a moment to our 
earlier comparison of radio's situation vis-a-vis television to that of the 
silent cinema at the coming of sound. It is tempting to make a parallel 
here, but to do so ignores one vital distinction: that silent and sound 
films had several important things in common so far as their approach 
to dramatic expression was concerned. Neither was purely visual (that 
film theorist's delight, the silent film without tides, approaching in its 
language nearer to the ballet, perhaps, than to anything else, constitutes 
only a very occasional exception to this rule). Both involved an 
externalization of emotion and state of mind by the actors, a distillation 
of emotion into visible action* with usually at least a minimum of 

92* 



A TIME FOR TRANSMISSION 

verbal commentary, whether by written titles or through spoken 
dialogue: they both covered, with the most marginal differences, the 
same fields of possible dramatic experience. 

Now this Is not at all the case with radio and television: they are not, 
of course, mutually exclusive in the material they can handle efficiently, 
but they must, of necessity, come to what they hold in common from 
different directions, and after all the possibilities of television have been 
accounted for, there still remains much which radio drama (dramatic 
feature, play for radio, poem in sound call It what you will) alone 
can do, and can do, Indeed, better than any other dramatic form. The 
word 'dramatic' here, and what we mean by it, are crucial. When we 
talk of something being e undramatic j , we usually mean simply that It is 
untheatrical, that it does not resolve thought into action sufficiently to 
satisfy the eyes in theatre or cinema, or even television studio as 
well as the ears. This has been said, fairly enough, about Shaw, Betti, 
Racine, and several other dramatists; It can be said with equal fairness 
of almost any dramatization of a novel of ideas. But on the radio a 
different conception of what is and what is not dramatic applies : It is not 
necessary for the dramatist to externalize his characters* thoughts; 
instead he can take us on a guided tour inside their brains. Action In 
the theatrical sense does not matter indeed, too much can be an em- 
barrassment: instead of resolving thought Into action, it is usually 
necessary rather to trace action back into the thought which produced 
It. In short, radio Is In many respects nearer to the novel than to the 
stage play: It combines certain advantages of the novel with others of 
the drama to produce something different from either, with its own 
weaknesses and, undeniably, Its own remarkable strengths. 

Admittedly this is all an optimistic description of most that one 
hears on radio today: it could hardly be otherwise. But In talking about 
radio art we are not required to consider *Mrs. Dale's Diary* or every 
mechanical adaptation for Saturday Night Theatre, any more than 
to assess the modern novel we must read True Love Romances or even 
every volume issued by a popular book dub. There Is a band of 
writers, still growing, who have mastered the specialized art of the 
radio play, and it is in their works that one can find some real indica- 
tion of what radio already is and what It may become. Some examples 
are well known: we are not yet beyond the stage of taking a special 
interest In original radio works by people who already have names to 

93 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

play with in contemporary literature, so that Dylan Thomas's Under 
Milk Wood and Samuel Beckett's All That Fall and Embers have 
automatically achieved more general fame than many other works of 
comparable merit (similarly, the success of The Wrong Side of the Park 
and The Caretaker has engendered a retrospective interest in the earlier 
radio plays of John Mortimer and Harold Pinter considerably greater 
than that they first encountered a year or two ago). 

But perhaps even more significant than these works by distinguished 
visitors are those by writers who have made radio their main form of 
dramatic expression: Louis MacNeice, Henry Reed, Giles Cooper and 
others who have worked long and scrupulously at perfecting their 
grasp of the medium. All three mentioned have produced classics of 
radio, conceivably only in terms of radio: how else could one embody 
so successfully the 'clothed allegory' of The Dark Tower than in radio, 
with its ability to strip a story of picturesque irrelevances, to keep its 
characters suspended between the literal and the fantasticated, and to 
present them, disembodied voices as they are, both as people and as 
ideas without the one getting in the way of the other? In what other 
form of drama could one mirror the life of an era through one man's 
mind and reactions, as in Mr. Reed's Return to Naples, or through a 
many-layered pattern of experience, from that of the professor to that 
of a lizard on a hot stone, as in his The Streets of Pompeii? How else 
could one hope to picture in three-quarters of an hour a man's whole 
life in microcosm as various trains of thought bring it to his mind in 
his morning bath, as in Mr. Cooper's Under the Loofah Tree, or pin 
down with such terrifying matter-of-factness the surrealistic horror- 
fantasy of his school story Unman, Wittering andZigo! Where else could 
one hope to enter the patient's mind during an intricate eye operation 
which must be performed while he is conscious, as in R. C. Scriven's A 
Single Taper; capture the metaphysical complexities of Moby Dick 
within the confines of dramatic form, as Henry Reed's radio version so 
triumphantly did; or give proper scope to those interior-exterior 
thought-conversations, so dramatic, so untheatrical, which cry out 
from the pages of Miss Compton-Burnett to be spoken? 

If we seek the art of the radio it is to these writers and others like 
them that we must look, for they understand the medium's special 
requirements and the special benefits it offers the writer in return. And 
while writers like these contimie to take radio seriotisly, to grow with 

94 



A TIME FOR TRANSMISSION 

It as It grows through them, we may perhaps account ourselves not 
unduly optimistic in supposing that when all the shouting about tele- 
vision has died down, as It must any time now, radio will turn out to 
be surviving quite happily, as the legitimate theatre has for many years, 
with an audience no doubt reduced, shorn of It casual, floating support, 
but for that very reason more discriminating and ready to appreciate 
the occasional exploratory work of ait as well as the solid, reliable and 
never less than honourable everyday fare. 



95 



THEATRE 



Stark Attitudes in the West End Theatre 



The triumphant assertion that the great middle-class stranglehold 
on the English play is as good as broken may lead to misunder- 
standing abroad. It should not be taken to imply that the middle 
classes stand aghast at the revolution of dramatic values that has taken 
place in the last few years and are in imminent danger of being left 
without a theatre to call their own. If this were true West End managers 
would have good reason to shake in their shoes. All that writers who 
advance the claim intend to convey is that the conventions of the 
London theatre have made a sudden notable gain in flexibility and 
perhaps in depth, and that the new conventions have enabled a few 
young playwrights to open up hitherto unexplored social territory. 
The importance of the revolution is that it is a revolution in the taste 
of the middle-class audiences who found themselves increasingly 
drawn to plays which formerly they would have ignored as avant 
garde, wildcat and vaguely reprehensible. 

This fact in itself is sufficiently striking. It indicates that a change of 
theatrical style which has been a long time in process of evolution has 
begun to win the provisional approval of a large body of playgoers. 
This approval as yet is no more than provisional. That is simply became 
none of the new young playwrights, not Mr. Arnold Wesker, not Mr. 
Harold Pinter, not Mr. Brendan Behan, not even Mr. John Osborne 
whose Jimmy Porter was the first to reveal with a surprising degree of 
general acceptance the younger generation's blistering contempt for 
the so-called benefits of a welfare state has yet managed to write the 
play which would firmly close an old era and open a new one. It may 

96 



STAUK ATTITUDES IN THE WEST END THEATRE 

be said that most of the new dramatists are too young for mature 
drama to be reasonably expected of them. 

That, after all, Is their own affair. Till they have produced some their 
hold on middle-class audiences will remain uncertain, and if they take 
too long about the business they may easily find that their sort of 
drama has itself dwindled into a familiar convention and lost its present 
freshness. For much of this drama represents the speech and feelings of 
working-class characters. It represents them in a way that makes the 
time-worn stereotype invented by middle-class writers look shockingly 
antediluvian. The impression given is that in these characters is reflected 
something of the raw new ideas that are stirring contemporary England, 
and the general public seems willing to study these ideas with curiosity, 
but with a curiosity which still remains a little wary. 

Many of the playwrights in this school are themselves working-class 
in origin, but they are not writing for working-class audiences and 
their work, in so far as it flourishes, flourishes only by grace of middle- 
class patronage. Miss Joan Litdewood's Theatre Royal is in the East 
End of London, and the local authorities think highly enough of its 
value to the district to provide an annual subsidy. But Stratford is a 
very respectable part of the East End, and certainly at first nights the 
audience is predominantly middle-class, many obviously having come 
to get an early view of a show likely later to be brought to the West 
End. The new playwrights have a following of keen partisans, but 
even at the Royal Court Theatre they are finally dependent on the ver- 
dict of the stalls. When Sergeant Musgrave's Dante was put on there it 
was hailed by the partisans as a work of startling significance, but the 
theatre's niiddle-dass supporters quietly decided that it was a bad play 
and the financial loss was considerable. 

We seem to have arrived at a time when a growing and already sub- 
stantial body of uncommitted playgoers are ready to give a friendly 
hearing to many different kinds of drama. They do not seem to mind 
how aggressively anti-Establishment the theme may be. They will take 
on occasion extremes of onrealism or surrealism without batting an eye- 
lid. It may be that, fundamentally, all satisfying drama is Aristotelian, 
but this new audience is ready to do without a story which makes 
them wonder how it is all going to enA They seem r to be as well satis- 
fied with one which is intensely omcemed with human beings and, 
without troubling to relate diem in an inevitable action, on yet make 

H 97 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

the talk sound spontaneous and direct. If such a play happens to stick in 
memory it will probably stick there not in virtue of the story told but 
rather by one or two of the characters that figured in it and at odd 
moments struck memorable attitudes. 

Insistence that the theatre is not less dependent than ever it was on 
middle-class patronage, may itself create a wrong impression if it 
should conjure up a picture of the stalls glossy with opulence and all 
comfortably of one mind on fundamental social issues. The first night 
audience, which is sometimes socially and nearly always theatrically 
distinguished, may indeed suggest a theatre still touched by a lingering 
gleam of Edwardian elegance. The gleam is swift to fade out on sub- 
sequent nights. In the welfare state the number of those who can 
afford to take the expensive seats has sensibly increased, and the middle- 
class, so far as the theatre is concerned, has been extended to include 
many who fall into the lower income brackets. They mostly live in 
outer-London and have no time to change between leaving their 
offices and meeting their wives in the foyer. 

They seem to be drawn to the West End theatre in the hope of seeing 
ideas of contemporary immediacy expressed rather arrestingly than of 
being lulled by conventional comedies in which the complete absence of 
ideas is disguised by brilliant acting and adroit direction. The dis- 
covery of the drama by the young and enthusiastic who, in this age as 
in every other, rather like to hitch their enthusiasm to a particular cause, 
has been one of the most reassuring things to happen in the last few 
years to London theatrical life. The newcomers to the stalls have 
perhaps more in common with these youthful partisans than with the 
Old Guard of playgoers who are still dreaming of the romantic theatre 
of their youth, Tree, Alexander and all that. 

Yet no attempt to explain in social and economic terms the liberaliz- 
ing of middle-class theatrical taste carries conviction. The change has 
been going on haltingly for a couple of decades. The causes are in part 
artistic, in part intellectual and, in the last analysis, spiritual. We may 
perhaps find the first stirrings of change in the war-time theatre. It was 
readily assumed in 1939 that the only thing warranted to relieve war- 
strain was light frivolity. Against all precedent, audiences were found 
looking for serious entertainment. The unexpected need was met 
largely by reviving the classics. On fine and various drama of the 
past, on language of authentic richness and intensity, the art of the actor 

98 



STARK ATTITUDES IN THE WEST END THEATHE 

flourished. And so did the art of watching drama. It soon became 
evident that war-time audiences were developing an extraordinary 
capacity for responding sympathetically to anything considered good 
of its kind. London at the end of the war astonished and enchanted 
foreign visitors with its acting brilliance and the range of its plays. They 
were mostly old plays, but they gave the impression that the theatre 
was showing itself to have a purpose beyond that of merely amusing; 
for once it could be clearly identified with the art of drama. It was a 
Halcyon time, but practical men forced to look ahead realized that it 
must in the nature of things soon come to an aid. Rich as our English 
dramatic heritage was, it could not continue to support audiences and 
actors indefinitely. Without the discovery of some serious modern 
drama the new-found catholicity of taste in audiences would have noth- 
ing to exercise itself upon and in all probability would turn to other 
forms of art. 

The struggle in the early post-war years to find these plays was not 
very successful. James Bridie, who was interested in ideas not in pky 
technique, for which indeed he professed a humorous contempt, was 
always writing good plays spoiled by inconclusiveness. Mr. Priestley 
was obviously uneasy in the fetters of realism but was never able to 
contrive an effective breakaway. Those who wanted a good story 
usually got what they wanted from Mr. Rattigan. Those who wanted 
die theatre to be theatrical occasionally got what they wanted from Mr. 
Peter Ustinov. Three novelists Mr. Greene, Charles Morgan and Mr. 
Wynyard Browne entered the field working with varying degrees of 
success in the convention of pure realism. But all these playwrights 
must have had the feeling that they were subdy out of touch with the 
public they were trying to reach. Middle-class audiences seemed mysteri- 
ously to be getting a little bored with their own problems as realism 
represented than. The time was ripe for restoring verse drama to die 
stage. 

A movement led by Mr. Eliot and Mr. Fry seemed for a while to 
stand in the mid-stream of theatrical necessity. There was a happy 
period when it was possible without too much self-deception to dream 
up the nativity of a new dramatic age in which poetry would be again 
the natural language of English playwrights. Alas, no theatrical trend 
can be trusted until it is cut and dried into history and no longer matters. 
The verse of Mr. Eliot turned out to be not vary poetic and the poetry 

99 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

of Mr, Fry not very dramatic, and the movement to restore verse to 
the stage which only yesterday seemed of the highest importance is 
today quite dead. The public all through these years seemed to hanker 
after some obscure satisfaction which dramatists, however mildly 
acceptable in their different ways, did not somehow contrive to give 
them. 

They were inclined to look abroad, There were odd signs that their 
unconscious need corresponded more closely to the frustrated mood of 
a war-ravaged Continent than would have been conceivable after the 
1914 war. Mr. Arthur Miller and Mr. Tennessee Williams provided 
them with some exciting plays, but it is doubtful if either of them, or 
any other American dramatist, had anything like the seeping influence 
that has been exercised over English audiences in the last few years by 
the French pessimists. Both Mr. Miller and Mr. Williams can be 
described as pessimists, but their pessimism seems to be robustly rooted 
in an instinctive faith in the American way of life. They are fiercely 
sceptical about that way of life, but their scepticism has not yet extend- 
ed to life itself. The poor, guilt-driven outcasts of society depicted by 
O'Neill in his last days strike us as closer to European pessimism than 
the WiHy Lomans and Blanche DuBoises who aspire pathetically to a 
pkce in the system which works relentlessly against them. 

Neither the existentialist savageries of Sartre nor the cynicism of 
Anouilh appeared to make any notable impression when their work 
was shown in London. Collectively, nevertheless, they helped with 
other like-minded plays from Paris to create an atmosphere. The readi- 
ness of English middle-class audiences to share in the European cult of 
Waiting for Godot would hardly have come about if there had not been 
a public already mentally adjusted to its message of despair. This piece 
admittedly offered remarkable scope for acting and imaginative direc- 
tion. Endgame, even more uncompromising in its gloom, did not. In 
so far as it had any influence on the mind of the general public it 
reached them, not directly but indirectly, through young dramatists 
eager to repeat the Beckett effects. English playwrights of the immediate 
post-war years dimly perceived that the public was blindly groping 
for something which they themselves were, from established habits of 
thought, not equipped to supply. Beckett and his followers and after 
him lonesco and his followers supplied the English public with at least 
something for which they felt a need. Conscious of moving into a 

100 



STARK ATTITUDES IN THE WEST END THEATRE 

world of terrifying scientific inventions among dangerous doctrines 
with whole peoples regimented behind them, they found that the 
theatre of Beckett could by exacting from, them a look at the worst 
conceivable produce in them a new kind of catharsis. And they also 
found that the anti-theatre of lonesco enabled a writer who is deeply 
convinced that the world does not make sense to express his feeling by 
writing about It in terms of non-sense. And after experiencing the 
delight in this theatre of abandoning aU logic there Is the further 
delight of discovering that underlying the nonsense there is a truth of 
possibly universal validity, disconcerting though the 'truth' may be. 

This is the audience still In all probability unsatisfied who find 
nothing incongruous in patronizing one night The Amorous Prawn, a 
somewhat old-fashioned piece of inconsequentiality, and the next the 
latest specimen of the anti-Establishment drama. They meet with all 
sorts of delicious surprises. If Mr. John Osbome is no longer the ack- 
nowledged leader of the new dramatists his place has been taken by 
Mr. Arnold Wesker, and those who go for the first time to Roots, un- 
questionably his best pky, discover that the rising hope of the move- 
ment is a photographic realist of the old Manchester school. His pky 
Is not the worse for that. It is a touching study of a girl who returns to 
her family of Norfolk farm labourers and tries to make them under- 
stand what she herself has tried to learn from her lover, clearly a showy 
London inteEectual, that the fruits of civilization are being rejected by 
the masses because they are too lazy-minded to acquire a .taste for them. 
The attempts to make her relatives think for themselves break down on 
their indurated stupidity. 

They witness in the end the humiliation she has dreaded. The man 
she loves and has lived with for three years discards her in a brief letter. 
To deaden her heartache she kimches into a bitter tirade against the 
complacent ignorance of her servile family. She is strangely comforted, 
so much is the tirade in the style of her faithless lover, 1 can do It*,, she 
cries In triumph, 1 can stand on my own feet/ But does Mr.Wesker 
really suppose that she on? Her claim makes a toudbingly effective cur- 
tain, but all that the girl has done is to reveal that she mistakes the gift of 
the gab for the capacity to get; happiness out of life. 

There is nothing in Mr. Wesker's organization of his excellent 
material to show thai die heroine is any nearer salvation at the aid than 
she was in the begging- But the two other plays which form a trilogy 



101 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 



are definitely inferior. Chicken Soup with Barley describes the impact of 
Communism upon a working-class Jewish family. It is a sincere and 
warm-hearted little piece about real people, Mr.Wesker has a good 
ear for dialogue. His weakness as a dramatist is not that he is under the 
illusion that the working-class is more interesting intrinsically than 
any other class but that in his anxiety to make everything about his 
characters authentic he is inclined to overdo the detail and consequently 
to slip into an effect of triviality. But the point of the play comes clearly 
and excitingly through the insufficiently simplified domestic detail and 
the sometimes too involved ideological chatter. It is simply that 
existence is a struggle and to give up caring is to die. There is altogether 
too much talk in Pm Talking About Jerusalem, the weakest of the three. 

Mr. Harold Pinter also is a genuine dramatist, though his first full 
play. The Birthday Party, most ingeniously and carefully obscured the 
fact. In The Caretaker he makes things a little easier for us. His method 
is to create characters which come vividly alive on the stage and then to 
withhold the sort of information about them that audiences expect to 
be given as a matter of course. The hoped-for effect is that the charac- 
ters, though their sayings and doings may be quite commonplace, will 
take on themselves a teasing air of mystery. The two brothers in The 
Caretaker who befriend a tramp are really very simple fellows, but 
by withholding information about them Mr. Pinter makes the older 
one seem unutterably sinister and the younger and more laconic almost 
inexplicable. Late in the evening the elder describes very movingly, if 
not altogether plausibly, the horror of the operation carried out on him 
in hospital to save him from complete insanity. This explains the 
strange slowness of his speech that has puzzled us. Between the two 
brothers is an understanding that is never put into words, and on this 
implicit understanding the tramp, who is not in the least grateful for 
anything that the casually compassionate youths do for him, is cast 
adrift. But the tramp in a sense is the play. He moves from bouts of 
inefiectual rage to grovelling misery. He has been so conditioned by 
life that he cannot help biting the hand that is trying to feed him. We 
are perhaps to understand that there are some people who cannot be 
helped. Is that a reflection on human society or on human nature 
itself. 

Mr. Brendan Behan is the sort of man an old English king might well 
have appointed his court jester. The Hostage is a rollicking extravaganza 



102 



STARK ATTITUDES IK THE WEST END THEATRE 

which swings a bladder at all the Irish parties past and present, and. 
reserves its fiercest insults for the English. It made a great success in 
the West End, for everyone could see that the ebullient author has the 
warmest of hearts and an overriding sense of rough justice. Miss 
Shelagh Delaney has written only one play, but -with a little scene of 
tender observation that gave real promise of development. 

The new dramatists have not much to show as yet to warrant the 
interest they have aroused, but beyond cavil they have managed to stir 
a pool that was getting rather stagnant. The way to success in the 
London theatre is conspicuously easier than it was before the war. 
The young dramatist had then to woo the great public from a distance. 
He now finds a group of theatres the Royal Court, Theatre Workshop 
in Stratford East, the Belgrade at Coventry which he can use as 
ladders leading him with any luck straight on to the West End stage. 
Some say that the movement would have grown stronger if it had been 
given time to mature in comparative obscurity. That is a rather fanciful 
supposition and anyway what would the West End stage have done 
while it was maturing? 



103 



MUSICi 



An Island Full of Strange Noises 

Vaughan Williams and Britten as Heirs of English Music 

The opening of the seventh decade of the twentieth century 
finds the art of music operating everywhere so far as com- 
position is concerned in a sudden vacuum. The only major com- 
poser surviving from the first part of the century, when modern music 
was young, is Stravinsky. That controversial figure still strives to keep 
abreast of an avant garde that is heading in two different directions at 
once. What he writes always sounds like Stravinsky and no one else in 
its texture and orchestral timbre, but his melodic invention, never his 
strongest endowment, is more short of breath than ever and his flirta- 
tion with the dodecaphonic techniques has led only to one more change 
of style in his restless career. 

The twelves-note serial technique, the creation of Schonberg which 
is now half a century old, is obeying nature's law about vacuums, and 
though it makes no headway with the public it has strongly engaged 
the interest of composers of every nation. A product of pre-1914 
Vienna, it was tried here in the inter-war years and found wanting, 
only to return after the Second World War as a seminal force all over 
the world. Though Austrian in origin it is international in its currency, 
and composers who adopt it seem to lose their nationality thereby. The 
other avant garde tendency is towards fragmentation no motif lasts 
longer than five notes, queer startled noises hop across divided orches- 
tras, bits and pieces follow one another either at random or in a cal- 
culated disarray. This stems from Webern and has its most prominent 
advocates in the Frenchman Boulez and the German Stockhausen; 

104. 



AN ISLAND FULL OF STRANGE NOISES 

It Has one or two disciples in Britain among tHe youngest generation. 

There are one or two English composers who practise the serial 
technique, of whom the most prominent are Elisabeth Lutyens and 
Humphrey Searle. But on the whole English music of the twentieth 
century has rejected it and remained national. It is true that there has 
only been one conscious nationalist among English composers com- 
parable to the Russian Five, the Czech, Hungarian, Spanish and Scan- 
dinavian pioneers of nationalist movements of the nineteenth century, 
and he died in 1958, Ralph Vaughan Williams. It is the removal of that 
massive figure, a great man as well as a distinctive composer, who com- 
bined a radical mind with a strong feeling for tradition, that has 
increased the feeling of a European vacuum. Strauss and Elgar, late 
romantics, had gone and no one outside England was prolonging the 
romantic sunset Here indeed. Bliss and Walton, who had both had 
short careers as enfants terribles, were seen to be fundamentally romantic 
and to use the language of the late romantics. In Russia Prokofiev, 
another enfant terrible but also a neo-classical composer of a strong and 
distinctive talent, died in 1953, leaving Shostakovich and Katachurian 
as belated nationalists but not offering any focus of attachment for a 
rising generation of composers outside Russia. In Germany the con- 
sequences of the Nazi blight put an end to the long German hegemony 
and only now are the names of middle-aged composers beginning to 
emerge, Blacher, Orff and Henze. In Italy Dallapiccola, who has a very 
real talent, has embraced the serial ideology, and in France only Poulenc 
survives of the older generation, so that there is no one anywhere now 
to give a lead to the younger generation in the formation of a style, 
such as the Austrians did in the eighteenth century and the nationalists 
in the nineteenth. Unless, indeed, the serialism, which seems to non- 
believers to rest on unsound psychology, should prove, as is being 
strongly advocated in some influential and vocal quarters, to be the 
music of the century. 

But here in England after Vaughan William's consolidation of the 
English musical imagination he truly spoke for England in song, 
symphony, choral and occasional music and nearly but not quite success- 
fully in dramatic music we are left with Bliss and Walton as romantics 
but not naturally conscious romantics, Rawsthorne as a sturdy in- 
dependent was He not born in Lancashire? neither national nor 
cosmopolitan, and Britten, whose feeling for the English knguage is 

105 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

as keen as PurcelTs or Parry's, and Is, on any reckoning, above all 
others the representative voice of English music today. Tippett, slightly 
his senior, is another Rawsthorne in his individualism but rather more 
rooted in Englishry. Two women, Elizabeth Maconchy, who writes 
good string quartets, and Phyllis Tate whose nimble-witted talent has 
put on weight and character, are hardly conceivable as other than Eng- 
lish, though their music has no marked folk song or rnadrigalian (but 
perhaps some Purcellian) affinities. Neoacademics of the oldest genera- 
tion, George Dyson, Herbert Howells, Gordon Jacob, Edmund Rubbra, 
with Howard Ferguson and Geoffrey Bush following in their wake, 
write an English music most suited to and much valued for home con- 
sumption but not for export. Lennox Berkeley, with English roots but 
Gallic training and sympathies, represents a different strain in the 
English tradition, more commonly found in literature, and painting 
than in music. 

Young composers just out of their student state are better off than 
their predecessors in means for getting their work heard. More will 
certainly be heard of some of them, but they do not yet speak for their 
country, for a tradition, or for anyone but themselves. It is the middle- 
aged and elderly on whom the duty of speaking to the world about 
England, of writing English songs and operas, of proclaiming anything 
we think to be valuable in our musical life, devolves. And before their 
work is computed it might be well to look at the final reckoning of 
Vaughan William's contribution which was added up in 1958, when 
he died at the age of eighty-five. 

He began as a follower of the two main English traditions, those of 
solo song and of choral singing. His Songs of Travel^ settings of Steven- 
son which belong to the first decade of the century, declared a new 
voice in English music, which was reinforced by the Whitmanesque 
cantata, Toward the Unknown Region, produced at the Leeds Festival of 
1905. But it is as a symphonist with a tally of nine that he finishes in 
critical esteem. These symphonies cover a vast range of human experi- 
ence but do not explore, as Beethoven mainly did, intra-subjective 
states of mind. 'The Sea*, 'London', 'Pastoral' are the designations of 
the first three. The seventh bears the title 'Antartica' ; numbers four 
and six are at bottom political and pose the issue of force in human 
affairs; number five is near-religious, having its primary source in 
Bunyan; number eight is more abstract and of smaller dimensions; 

106 



AN ISLAND FULL OF STRANGE NOISES 

number nine is an old man's testament of despair, all the more 
remarkable in coming from the pen of one who thoughout life had 
looked forward and been an explorer of unknown regions. Number 
four, at first thought to be uncharacteristic, is the one most commonly 
played abroad. Of his other works the Tails Fantasia for strings is also 
widely played. The ballet Job is perhaps the perfect summary of his 
work and is trebly rooted in English soil, the old Testament of the 
Authorized Version, Blake's engravings and his own brand of English 
melody. For more than half a century he wrote a music founded on 
English folk-song, English hymnody, English madrigalian counterpoint, 
but instantly recognizable as the distinctive voice of one individual, 
himself and none other. Elgar may be said to have put England back on 
the map of Europe by being our first orchestral composer, but Vaughan 
Williams's was the voice of England foreign critics have said as much. 

So complete was the emancipation he and Hoist together achieved 
from the dominance of Germany and Italy that no nationalist move- 
ment developed. E. J. Moeran, a composer of secondary rank who 
wrote mostly vocal but some orchestral and chamber works inspired by 
nature and scenery, is virtually the only follower of Vaughan Williams 
in founding his style on folk-songs and the Elizabethans. The main 
strains in his heredity and musical influences are topographical, though 
it would be absurd to say that he wrote local Norfolk and Irish music. 
But he belongs to the pastoral tradition and is a nationalist. No one 
else but these two can properly be described as nationalists in the nine- 
teenth-century European sense, though folk-song said something to 
Gerald Finzi and the madrigals a good deal to Edmund Rubbra. Finzi 
is a miniaturist excelling in songs, Rubbra a contrapuntal thinker, 
whether in liturgical or symphonic music; both are unmistakably 
English. Britten has made many settings of folk-songs but has never 
been immersed in them as Vaughan Williams was. Still, he finds them 
congenial and he made his own edition of that corpus of English 
melody, The Beggar* $ Opera. 

Operatic activity, together with parallel developments in the ballet 
consequent upon the formation of what is now the Royal Ballet, has 
indeed been the principal change in the musical life of the country in the 
past generation. The old aesthetic opposition to it as an art-form has 
been dissolved and with the emergence of Britten as an opera composer 
it is a phenomenon of which the significance cannot be exaggerated 

107 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

that Peter Grimes went round the world's opera houses the 
prospects have been transformed. The ballet produced a number of 
excellent scores from Lambert, from Bliss, whose Checkmate shows his 
talent for drama and character at its strongest, and from Malcolm 
Arnold; and Walton's Troilus and Cressida proved to be an opera in the 
grand manner. Britten has produced no fewer than ten stage works. 

In Britten the chief stylistic influence is Purcell, whose Dido and 
Aeneas and Orpheus Britannicus songs he had edited with modern realiza- 
tions of the basso continue. But, as with Purcell, his Englishness is rooted 
in the English language. His instrumental compositions are few for so 
prolific a composer and his inspiration is primarily verbal indeed lie 
has set both French (Les Illuminations) and Italian (Michelangelo Sonnets), 
as well as English prose and poetry. To set prose he has even invented 
a new form, a declamatory scena which he calls a canticle 'Abraham 
and Isaac' is the best known of the three so far composed. 

From early student days he showed most exceptional talent and it has 
become clear by now that for sheer musical ability he is in the class of 
Purcell, Mozart and Strauss. His facility is matched by his fertility 
another mark of the great composer. He has been called clever ever 
since his name emerged into the public ken in the early 1930s, with the 
implication that word has for English people who mistrust intellectual 
ability as though it was a flaw of character, that he lacked heart. His 
cleverness has just been demonstrated in its dazzling mastery in his 
Cantata Academica, in which he exploits every technical device even to 
the extent of writing a dashing fugue whose entries are in the order of a 
twelve-note tone row. His heart beats predominantly with the emo- 
tion of compassion, as shown in his choice of subject for his operas, 
Peter Grimes (the outcast), The Rape ofLucretia (the outraged), Billy 
Budd (the victim). But he commands the more joyful emotions, as 
shown in The Spring Symphony and Saint Nicolas. There is no doubt 
now, if there was fifteen years ago, that beyond skill there is feeling, 
that his instant response to words betrays a ready sympathy, and that 
his music has increased in depth. 

The faculty that makes an artist out of a technician with a heart is 
the imagination, that ultimately mysterious power which converts 
impressions into images and images into expression. It is Britten's sheer 
imagination which now inspires wonder. His new opera, A Mid" 
summer Nighfs Dream, is the latest, the most mature, the most universal 



108 



AN ISLAND BULL OF STKANGE NOISES 

demonstration of imaginative power, which, matches Shakespeare's 
own. A new humanity has emerged in that the opera is not 
concerned with pathological types, or recondite emotions. What made 
Vaughan Williams a great composer was a quasi-moral factor, his 
broad sympathy with humanity. Britten, as he approaches the age of 
fifty, is developing a similar comprehension of the world we live in. 
There are many English musical people who find the same sort of 
spiritual satisfaction in Vaughan Williams as they find in Bach. If such 
a comparison between the eighteenth and twentieth century is per- 
missible, Britten is a modem Mozart to Vaughan Williams* s Bach. And 
they both speak for England. 

Is Mr. Britten an Englishman?' said an Italian lady to the writer, 
overhearing his English conversation at the first performance of The 
Turn of the Screw at the Fenice, in Venice, 'Indeed, of course he is/ was 
the reply. *But', she continued, *the English do not believe in ghosts/ 
only the Welsh and the Irish.* Even an Englishman may suspend his 
disbelief in ghosts while reading Henry James and remain an English- 
man. Mr. Britten, born at Lowestoft, educated at Holt and the Royal 
College of Music, is not only an Englishman but he is today the incar- 
nation of the English imagination as it manifests itself in the art of music. 



109 



MUSIC 2 



Spontaneity of a Jazz Community 



Can something so deeply and exclusively rooted in the United 
States as jazz be considered part of the 'British imagination*? 
The obvious answer is no. Like football, jazz has been diffused 
throughout the urban world from a single national centre. Unlike foot- 
ball, jazz has never emancipated itself from its home country, either by 
equalling or surpassing the American achievement, or by making orig- 
inal contributions of significance to it. Like the French literature 
written by foreigners in the eighteenth century, the jazz played by 
foreigners in the twentieth is not merely derivative but frankly 
imitative. Nor do British jazz enthusiasts (playing or non-playing) seek 
to conceal or palliate this unquestioned American supremacy. Our 
most daring nationalists will merely claim that some British musicians 
play better than some Americans, and that several, if given the chance 
to complete their education in the United States, would play as well as 
all but the very best Americans. Our least nationalist fans a more 
numerous group may, in the heat of discussion, actually deny that any- 
one except an American Negro will ever be able to play jazz. At first 
sight it may therefore appear absurd to consider jazz as a specifically 
British phenomenon, and a highly original one. 

Nevertheless British jazz is in many respects unique. In the first place, 
jazz is almost certainly more widely practised and appreciated, as a self- 
conscious form of music distinct from jazz-tinged commercial music, in 
Britain than anywhere else, including the United States. Thus, the 
weekly Melody Maker, which used also to function as an international 
jazz information journal for the rest of Europe, has a circulation 
several times that of its (younger) American equivalent. Britain pro- 

iio 



SPONTANEITY OF A JAZZ COMMUNITY 

bably maintains a greater number of specialized jazz periodicals with, a 
greater aggregate circulation than the United States, and certainly a 
much larger and more enthusiastic public for books about jazz. At a 
rough guess something like fifty books on the subject have been pub- 
lished here in the past five years, the majority written by British 
authors. 

The most significant thing about this abnormally large British jazz 
community is not its size but its social character, and the nature of its 
cultural influence. It is a cultural minority jazz is almost defined by 
its minority status, i.e., by not being commercial music or mere enter- 
tainment but a highly peculiar one. The customary want garde is one 
of intellectuals and artists, and its influence makes its way from the 
upper reaches of society or education downwards; notably so in our 
hierarchic and snobbish country. There were balletomanes in country 
houses before shorthand typists flocked to the Sadler's Wells. Cam- 
bridge rooms were decorated with Matisse reproductions when East 
Sheen rooms were still with the Medici Society and Hanley rooms with 
Millais. The American and Continental jazz minorities broadly con- 
form to this pattern. 

Not so the British. The centre of gravity of jazz in this country has 
always been somewhere near the border zone which divides or joins 
the upper working-class and the lower middle-class. From there it has 
made its way upwards as an av ant garde taste, and downwards or 
sideways as an original British form of popular (and therefore rapidly 
commercialized) dance and song. The jazz-lovers have felt flattered by 
the one conquest and deeply put out by the other, but at the risk of 
irritating them it must be said that Messrs. Chris Barber, Acker Bilk 
and Lonnie Donegan who reach the *Top Ten* (while still considering 
themselves as cultural crusaders) are at least as significant consequences 
of minority devotion as the jazz backgrounds to Look Back In Anger and 
the jazz-cum-poetxy performances at the Royal Court. Indeed they are 
more significant. The increasingly frequent liaisons between jazz and 
the worlds of fashion and the orthodox arts are not peculiar to Britain. 
The creation of a uniquekind of cultural public and of a unique innova- 
tion in popular music the transplantation of a dhunk of alien folk-art 
are so far unparalleled elsewhere. 

Both reflect a remarkable democratic revolt in the field of culture. 
Mr. Kingsley Amis and his team of provincial graduates, who made 

in 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

jazz one of their many battle-cries against the upper-class cultural 
establishment, may have created the impression that it was the product 
of the early 19505, but it is older than that. In the 19205, admittedly, jazz 
was little more than a word (generally attached to any music played 
with saxophones and persistent syncopation), a few individual en- 
thusiasts, and a sort of dumb underground movement among pro- 
fessional dance-band musicians, a strictly working-class group, in favour 
of a music which was both interesting to play and independent of 
educational orthodoxy. The British jazz fan as a type emerged in the 
19305. He was characteristically suburban or provincial, educated at the 
public library rather than the university, and by profession something 
like a young clerk, draughtsman, accountant, a musician, commercial 
artist or technician. Jazz appealed to him not simply because he liked 
the sound, as he liked science fiction (another taste which has spread 
socially upwards from the comer newsagents with their stock of pulp 
magazines), but because it was his discovery, which owed nothing to 
cultural orthodoxy, and above all because it was serious. He did not 
merely enjoy jazz; he regarded it as a branch of adult education: its 
graduates are today scattered all over the land as discographers of 
monumental erudition, experts on the stylistic differences and chron- 
ologies of obscure bands, and semi-Marxist specialists in the social 
history of the American Negro. 

Such enthusiasts did not dance, but discussed. Most of them were 
on the political Left, an orientation which British jazz (if only because 
of its built-in hatred of racialism) has never quite lost. If interested in 
other aspects of culture, they were likely to approach classical music 
via Duke Ellington and Debussy, and to show a well-chosen passion for 
Shaw and Wdls, to whose world they visibly belonged. Their mission- 
ary zeal was unparalleled. They recognized no greater insult than the 
suggestion that jazz was 'light' or 'commercial', and constantly tended 
to split into at least two feuding groups, each claiming to represent the 
iincorrapted, the pure, the only real jazz. Since the war they have been 
somewhat obscured from view by the new jazz recruits who take their 
music less intellectually, and of course the advance of education has 
made such self-made intellectuals rarer than they were. However, 
young men of essentially this type still form the core of the 'serious* 
jazz public, certainly the reading public, though many of them are today 
at redbrick trniversities. 



112 



SPONTANEITY OF A JAZZ COMMUNITY 

From this stratum the fashion for jazz has percolated into more cul- 
turally established circles. But the major achievement of the 'serious 5 
jazz fans is elsewhere. It is astonishing enough. They have turned a 
noise which, twenty years ago, was virtually unknown except to a few 
collectors of musical antiquities into the standard dance-music of the 
British adolescent, who now dances (or rather jives') to 'traditional' 
New Orleans jazz and listens to commercially debased versions of 
Negro folk and gospel song. The triumph of New Orleans owes noth- 
ing whatever to commercialism, and everything to the bands of young 
men who, towards the end of the war, began their devoted antiquarian 
music-making in the back rooms of pubs. The vogue for debased 
blues and gospel song (under such trade names as rock and roll) is 
frankly commercial, and fortunately on the wane. Nevertheless in 
Britain its first short-lived phase ('skiffle') was clearly a spontaneous out- 
growth of the New Orleans revival. Commercialization came later. 
Any student of folk-song will appreciate the stupendous nature of this 
achievement, for until now the folk have rarely actually adopted the 
folk music which the small groups of zealots have attempted to propa- 
gate among them. (Though they have attempted to use the jazz reviva- 
lists movement, the official British folk music enthusiasts a group 
on the friendliest terms with the revivalists have had only slight 
success.) What nationalist governments and teachers have generally 
failed to do, the jazz fans, lacking any institutional support, have 
achieved. 

Indeed, it is extremely likely that they have succeeded because they 
lacked such support. For the studious apprentice electronic engineers 
or clerks share three things with the simpler dancing and record- 
playing masses : a revolt against upper-class culture, against commercial- 
ism, and above all against the older generation. (Admittedly a mass 
public cannot revolt against commercialism for more than a moment, 
for its very size creates it; at most it can choose 'its* kind of commercial- 
ism against older established ones, and develop an aggressive cynicism 
about all of them.) Jazz succeeded because it is rebellious, demotic and 
youthful musk. The want garde discovered it, but because what it 
discovered was not avant garde music but one of the rare examples of 
twentieth-century urban folk-art the masses followed its lead, even 
to the point of attempting for a short while and with very indifferent 
success to make rather than merely to absorb it. For this achievement 



113 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 



alone jazz deserves its place in any survey of the British, imagination in 
the middle third of the twentieth century. Few things, for better or 
worse, have stimulated more youthful British imaginations than the 
New Orleans street parade and the twelve-bar blues. 



114 



BALLET 



Should a Ballet Tell a Story? 



Nowadays it is only half true to say that the English School of 
Ballet descends from the Mariinsky school in St. Petersburg, 
which descends in turn from French and Italian ballet. Fully 

to understand the character of the English school and therefore of its 
dancers and ballets one has to balance its technical ancestry against the 
long history of ballet in England lately brought to light by Mr, Philip 
Richardson, Miss Melusine Wood, Mr. Ivor Guest and other writers. 

A sense of a national history is something new to British ballet. It 
appeared more strongly in 1960 than before because September 24 
marked the two-hundredth anniversary of the death of John Weaver, 
England's first choreographer. The English Weaver, these writers tell 
us, not the French Noverre or the Austrian Hilferding or anyone else, 
was the first to develop the ballet without words, the ballet d' action, 
which was the turning point in ballet history. The more these writers 
research the more the art of ballet is shown to be mingled inseparably 
with the imaginative past of England, and the more this past comes 
forward to give stability and national direction to an art which we have 
learnt from others but which we have possessed since Tudor days. 

Three times after its boisterous beginnings in the Tudor masque the 
English lyric theatre had the talent to found a national ballet. It failed 
at the early Stuart court, at the time of Weaver in the reign of George I, 
and at the time of the Romantic Ballet 120 years ago for lack of 
adequate patronage. 

lie English court, limited in wealth and authority by the political 
compromises of 1660 and 1688, could not summon the resources with 

115 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

which the courts of St. Petersburg, Paris, Vienna, Stockholm, and even 
Me Stuttgart fostered the lyric theatre as part of the royal image. As 
a result the lyric theatre today is reasonably endowed everywhere in 
Europe except in Britain. Britain, instead, possesses the first national 
ballet in the world born outside royal patronage, the first ballet born 
of popular support. 

True, its dancer-godparents endowed it with the aristocratic vocabu- 
lary of the court ballets of France, Italy and Russia, but its other god- 
parents were the intelligent British public created by the Education 
Acts on 1870 onwards. Without this public, which grew in numbers 
under the stimulus of war and post-war social changes and the success of 
English dancers during the 1930$, there would be no national ballet 
today. Popular taste exerted a decisive influence over the character and 
content of early British ballet, while public interest encouraged teachers 
and choreographers to translate into English with astonishing speed a 
language of movements which seemed, even in the 19205, to be exclus- 
ively French, Russian or Italian. 

Yet the image of Britain projected by our national ballet is still not 
completely national. It could not be in the thirty years since the Ballet 
Rambert, our oldest company, first showed what English dancers could 
do. For one thing we are only just becoming aware of our balletic past. 
For another we are only now realizing the need to study seriously our 
folk dance tradition. 

'Certain folk dance and folk lore ballets are necessary in every 
national ballet company/ said Dame Ninette de Valois to the Royal 
Society of Arts three years ago. 'They should be fostered if only to 
develop the special characteristics of the native dancer. Such 
works are a sure means of expressing a country's national form of 
musicaKty/ 

Therefore the inclusion of English folk dances by the Royal Ballet 
School in the annual gala programme of the Royal Ballet in March 1960 
(the first time, so far as we can discover, that English folk dances have 
been danced on the stage of the English Opera House) ought to have 
been noted as significant in the development of our ballet. Curiously, 
most critics missed the point or ignored it altogether. 

The event, however, proclaimed the direction of British ballet in 
the 19605. By now classicism, has in the main been absorbed. Giselle, 
Coppelia and the classical ballets of Tchaikovsky, together enshrining 



116 



SHOULD A BALLET TELL A STOSY? 

the classical tradition, have their fixed place in the repertoire and in the 
affections of ballet audiences. These works are a nursery and a yard- 
stick for dancers and choreographers. 

In the same way the neo-romantic tradition of Fokine and the neo- 
classicism of later Diagtsilev choreographers have been absorbed, Les 
Sylphides, Petrouchka, The Firebird, The Time-Cornered Hat and other 
productions from the past are so many foundation-stones for the 
structure of English choreography. 

The structure, of course, began to be built long before the foundation 
was complete. In the 1930$ and 1940$ pioneer English choreographers 
like Dame Ninette de Valois, Mr. Frederick Ashton, Mr. Antony 
Tudor, Mr. Robert Helpmann and Miss Andree Howard established 
almost all the genres which English choreography is exploring 
today. 

Collectively, these genres showed how the English imagination in a 
democratic age was fumbling to adapt an aristocratic medium to its 
needs. The ballet was quick to reflect the literary talent through which 
we, as a nation, most often express ourselves, and the narrative influence 
of artists like Blake and Hogarth who inspired two of the first classics of 
English ballet in Dame Ninette's Job and The Rake's Progress. 

From the Sitwells Mr. Frederick Ashton drew Facade and Rio Grande 
and from Gertrude Stein A Wedding Bouquet* Mr. Robert Helpmann 
turned to Milton for Comus and to Shakespeare for HamleL From the 
novel by David Garnett Miss Andree Howard created Lady into Fox, 
while almost all our choreographers turned at one time or another 
(sometimes too often) to the literature of mythology. 

This association of ballet with literature has continued in the work 
of younger choreographers. Mr. John Granko's Harlequin in April is 
inspired by lines in Mr. T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, and Bis Pineapple 
Poll translates a Bab Ballad by W. S. Gilbert. Mr. Kenneth MacMillan's 
House of Birds comes from a Grimm fairy-tale; Mr. Alfred Rodrigues's 
Blood Wedding is based on the Lorca play. 

But it cannot be said honestly that our ballet has made full use of 
British literary resources, or tint choreographers have often sought 
original scenarios from living poets. Rather, the poetic element, which 
is so strong a part of the British imagination, has found expression in 
the ideas of choreographers themselves. Of the three types of ballet, 
narrative, mood and abstract, which Diaghilev handed down, to us, 

117 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

Britain has developed the mood ballet most fully. This, for example, 
has allowed Mr. Frederick Ashton to realize best the lyrical-romantic 
vision of 'beauty* which has been his main preoccupation in chore- 
ography. Les Rendezvous, Les Patineurs, Symphonic Variations and 
Homage to the Queen for the Sadler's Wells Ballet are expressions of 
this vision. 

At the Ballet Club before the war Mr. Anthony Tudor carried the 
mood ballet into psychology and into the everyday conflicts of real 
life characters through Lilac Garden, Dark Elegies and other works. 
Since the war Mr. Cranko and Mr. MacMillan at Covent Garden have 
continued this exploration of the mind, penetrating farther into psych- 
ology and matching their discoveries with a more complex chore- 
ography than Mr. Tudor's. 

All these ballets have been self-contained one-act pieces. The one- 
act, short-story ballet evolved by Fokine has been the basis of our 
school and the principal form through which we have expressed our- 
selves. Through this form we have experimented, extending the 
imagery of classical ballet by adding other idioms of movement. 
Influences of the central European vocabulary can be seen in most 
ballets by Dame Ninette and Mr. Tudor, elements of jazz dancing 
mingle continuously in Mr. MacMillan's work, elements of folk danc- 
ing and movements far removed from dancing reflect the eclectic 
inquiries of Mr. Cranko. 

By now*, therefore, a complex structure of British choreography 
has been created, almost of Commonwealth choreography, so much 
are we indebted to Commonwealth talent in all our companies. It 
catches and reflects aspects of our life like a moving mirror always with 
invention and originality, but lacking in some ways clarity and depth 
of character, especially national character. 

The next stage, then, is to see that this national character is strength- 
ened. The ways in which this will be done provide the tasks of British 
ballet during the 19605 and the 19705. The development of what Dame 
Ninette de Valois has called a 'more truly national choreography*, 
a choreography more directly inspired by our folk dance traditions, is 
one way. Another is the creation of our 'own interpretation of estab- 
lished traditional classical ballets of international fame and usage*. A 
third is the development of teaching methods to produce dancers whose 
technique and histrionic ability extend their national qualities. A fourth 

118 



SHOULD A BALLET TELL A STORY? 

way, looking at the other side of the theatrical curtain, is the develop- 
ment of a national school of ballet criticism. 

The Royal Ballet and Ballet Rambert, no doubt, will play the 
principal parts in fulfilling these tasks since creation has been centred in 
them throughout the past thirty years. *If we say the Royal Ballet is our 
National Gallery of Dancing,* said Madame Rambert in a famous 
television interview, *I would like to be modestly the Tate 
Gallery.' 

These two companies have been the power house of English ballet 
for a generation. Bom of the national revival of dancing, which 
nourished equally the folk dance and the ballroom in the first half of 
this century, they have trained the artists and provided the inspiration 
which make ballet so much more part of the popular imagination 
today that neither the visual arts, cinema and television, nor 
fashion and education, nor even the training of athletes can escape its 
influence. 

Of the two, the Ballet Rambert has the stronger dramatic tradition 
and develops its artists within a less rigid framework. But the burden 
of the future really rests with the Royal Ballet. The future, perhaps, 
will say that in the 19405 and 19505 our national resources became un- 
balanced, our choreographers tended to outdo our designers and 
composers. Although the wealth of British choreography derives in 
part from the catholic musical foundation bequeathed to it by Constant 
Lambert we need today the inspiration of a musical talent as intent on 
developing national character in music as Dame Ninette is in choreo- 
graphy. Since Constant Lambert died British ballet has not had an out- 
standing musical director any more than it has had an outstanding 
ballet designer since the death of Sophie Fedorovitch. 

We lack, too, in many of our productions a dramatic sense as strong 
as our dancing sense. Were it otherwise we should not merit so richly 
the American jibe which M. Tony Mayer quotes at us in La Vie 
Anglaise: 'English balletomanes want their ballet polite. How can 
dancing be polite?* 

Our search for academic perfection, laudable in a young school 
establishing its traditions, sometimes leads us to develop too far a certain 
reserve in our imaginative make-up. We need more passion about 
our dancing as well as more national character. 

This is as much a matter of schooling as choreographic demand. The 

119 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

English character Is not as cold as other peoples think or, if it is, Mr. 
Ashton's La Fille Mai Gardee and Mr. Cranko's Antigone provide a 
remarkable degree of heating. In these recent successes English 
dancers appear as comic and dramatic artists in the strongest traditions 
of the English spoken theatre. Such a thing has happened before, of 
course in The Rake's Progress, say, and in Mr. Tudor's Gala Perform- 
ance but not on the same scale. It is scale which matters today. The 
implication of *a more truly national choreography' lies not only in a 
closer regard for folk traditions but in three-act ballets to balance one 
act works, the novel to balance the short story, and this, the shape of 
the future, requires actor-dancers, not just dancers. 

If we can be glad, then, that La Fille Mai Gardee and Antigone reveal 
the virtuosity of our dancers and the choreographic breadth of our 
school from the classicism of Ashton to the Catholicism of Cranko we 
should be still more glad of the dramatic revelation. Although the 
clog dance in La Fille Mai Gardee is the only genuflexion these ballets 
make to folk traditions they still begin handsomely to solve the tasks of 
the 19605, 

How far will these tasks be helped or hindered by the critics? Dame 
Ninette de Valois reckoned in 1957 that it would be fifteen years before 
a worthwhile school of ballet criticism could be developed in Britain on 
the basis of what has been begun by Mr. Arnold Haskell, Mr. Cyril 
Beaumont and one or two other writers. 

If anything she is optimistic. Good critics are more difficult to develop 
than good historians. Ballet criticism in Britain has none of the tradition 
of British literary or dramatic criticism, none of the background which 
French and Russian ballet criticism can claim. What is more, editorial 
space is short and the universities, unlike universities in Europe, America 
and South Africa, do very little to help. A few encourage public 
appreciation of ballet through extra-mural lectures; none is 
prepared to advance criticism of the art by systematic study within its 
walls. 

The news, therefore, that Oxford University extension lectures 
committee had decided to sponsor a course of lectures on ballet during 
the 1960 Michaelmas term actually inside Oxford seemed almost 
equivalent to breaking the sound barrier. It gave a particularly promis- 
ing end to an anniversary year which already had been a vintage one 
for English ballet. The lecturers included Dame Ninette de Valois, 

120 



SHOULD A BALLET TELL A STORY? 

Madame Rambert and Mr. Arnold Haskell, which was as it should be 
because an art of the theatre can create a truthful national image only in 
so far as support is mixed with understanding on both sides of the 
footlights. 



SNOBBERY 



Singular Saxon Attitudes 



We must not be complacent, and to claim snobbery as a 
specifically English, attitude would be insulting to the 
patriarchs of Charleston, the traditionalists of New South. 
Wales, many a nostalgic Chinese, many a high-flown Beduin seigneur. 
The word, though, is ours, born out of slang and Anglo-Saxon, un- 
convincingly adapted to snobisme and snolismo, and buttressed by an un- 
approachable variety of derivatives: snobbish, snobby, snobbism, 
snobling, even snobocracy. It is a poor thing indeed, but we have made 
it all our own. 

Snobbery in England is more than a joke or a frame of mind, more 
even than, a relic of dying orders. It is a phenomenon of such complexity 
and force that nearly all our lives are affected by it, and the essence of 
the state is spiced with its pungency. When the president of the 
American women's club, crossing her knees fastidiously upon her 
Heppdwhite sofa, mistily recalls the splendours of her pedigree 
'Sir Hawkins, you know, and his wife the seventh Countess, who had 
such a lovely lovely old place not a stone's throw from Blenheim' 
when the foreigner tries a hand at the game, the English connoisseur 
smiles a faint superior smile: across the water most snobbery seems 
simple stuf provincial, amateurish, impotent. Nobody really believes 
in Sir Hawkins, not even the president of the women's club, 
and nobody much cares anyway. Elsewhere snobbery is, at its 
worst, merely pathetic, but in England it sometimes descends to 
tragedy. 

For England is still an aristocracy not just a place where breeding 
counts, but a society still ran by a series of consciously formed elites. A 

122 



SINGULAR SAXON ATTITUDES 

carefully chosen, meticulously trained elite sprang out of Haileybury, 
in the heyday of the Raj, to administer the Queen's India. An flite of 
different traits but similar exclusiveness still runs Lloyd's of London. 
Certain regiments of the Army, certain schools, certain professions, 
even certain newspapers have long enjoyed a preferential status, a 
superiority of privilege that is tacitly accepted by the common weal, 
and has become part of that queer web of custom and inanity that the 
English, with a mystical smile, like to call tradition. 

This manner of thought puts a premium on snobbery: and since the 
glory of the English system is its flexibility, the elasticity that makes the 
class-gulfs bridgeable and the stately homes change hands, English 
snobbery is more aspiration than contempt. It is a constructive energy, 
for good as well as evil. The intelligent and persistent snob, aping and 
envying the manners of his social superiors, can readily improve his 
condition if not in his own generation, at least in his son's (this is the 
age of hustle, and the old tag that it takes three generations to make a 
gentleman has long been outmoded). A snob is usually a man on the 
move, and the original meaning of the word was not a person who 
scorned his inferiors, but a lout with yearnings. 

In England we are mostly snobs, but the nature of our yearnings 
varies immensely from class to class, generally richening in subtlety 
and perception as the social level rises, until at last you reach the kind of 
paradoxical inversion that has produced the Mayfair Cockneys of the 
19305, the Orwellian working-men, and the Eton individualists of 
today who often like to shroud their magnificent background in an 
open-necked, off the-peg, tasteless, colour-less, almost faceless social 
anonymity. So corrosive is the acid of snobbery in England, and so 
sensitive are amateurs to its nuances, that even the anti-snob feels snob- 
bish, and the idealist trying his best to evade the class-conflict altogether 
becomes a special kind of snob himself. 

It signifies least among the working people, mostly townsmen now- 
adays, who have such horny instincts and ancient roots of their own, 
and whose horizons are (to be blunt) still so limited, that they have 
little time for mimicry, and even less for social climbing. Generations 
of observers have noticed the aristocratic self-sufficiency of the English 
working man. Spared the degradations of peasanthood and the un- 
certainties of migration, he long ago settled into a mould of tolerant, 
slow-moving, sometimes pig-headed, usually good-humoured common 

123 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

sense. If the English maintain their genius for compromise, it is 
strongest today at the bottom. 

This does not make for snobbery. The English working man has 
always laughed at social pretensions, but not often with malice. 
Fifty years ago the Toff was an essential comic figure of Cockney lore, 
guyed incessantly but usually affectionately. Today few English 
comedians are more popular than Mr. Terry-Thomas, whose attitude 
is one of foppish but always appealing toffdom, expressed in languid 
loose-jointed postures, ludicrous cigarette holders and a drawl of 
monstrous superiority. English working people are sometimes blind 
and sometimes irresponsible, but seldom petulantly envious. They 
share with the upper classes a taste for racing, good living, fun with a 
touch of bawdy; they love to shed a sentimental tear over the pangs 
and pomps of royalty; and ingrained among their attitudes, after all 
these years of egalitarianism, there lingers an innate respect for the 
ruling elites, and an acceptance of the harsh truth that in this world of 
imperfections some are more equal than others. 

Presently, though, as the citizen advances, and climbs out of the 
proletariat into the lower middle-classes, there does sink into his con- 
sciousness a glimmering of snobbery: snobbery in its crude infancy, 
such as you may find in communities of comparable development the 
world over. Whether our neighbours are Joneses or Rileys, Ivanovs or 
Schmidts, keeping up with them soon becomes a queer compulsive 
urge, like the frenzies of lemmings in the snow. 

At this level of society England ploughs in an American wake, and 
the snobbery of our newly prosperous bourgeoisie conforms to an 
American pattern. Not so long ago we used to scoff comfortably at 
the American success symbols, the philosophies of the status seekers, 
the petty prides of materialism. Today the laugh has faded* 'You're 
really someone 9 , says the English advertisements, too, when you drive a 
you-know-what: or 'Everyone in Town Will Envy You' if you choose 
a something else. The extremes of English society are still inalienably 
English, but much in the middle is half American, and the lower reaches 
of English snobbery flow to a universal rhythm. It is the vulgarity of a 
newly prosperous class. Our forebears laughed at it in the nouveaux 
riches of the Industrial Revolution, flashing their diamonds and flaun- 
ting their feathers in a thousand caustic pages of Punch. Today, 
in an England that has never had it so good, an England at once 

124 



SINGULAR SAXON ATTITUDES 

enlivened and tainted by Americanism, it characterizes half die 
nation. 

It is usually harmless enough, and human enough, and often even 
beneficial, for here as in America it forces standards upwards and gives 
an evolving society new confidence and self-esteem. The moralist may 
quiver, but the student of snobs will pass condescendingly by. They 
are learning, they are learning, he will murmur with a smile, observing 
with satisfaction that Mrs. Brown has left the sitting-room curtains 
open, to let the neighbours see the silver. 

Ah, but when this harmless pride of progress bumps into the older 
English complexes, then there can be real suffering. A stage up in the 
middle classes, and English snobbery becomes a national handicap and 
sometimes a personal tragedy. Now for the first time we encounter 
the snobbery of speech, the most dreadful of English attitudes. In this 
country (as Shaw pointed out) the phonologist or even the psycholo- 
gist can sum up a man the moment he opens his mouth, and this dreary 
circumstance has had a profoundly retarding effect upon our people. 
Half the population of England is constantly engaged in trying to 
talk more grandly than its parents did. Hideous are the distortions of 
vowel and syntax that stem from this ambition, the flattening of sylla- 
bles, the clipping of consonants, even the shrill shifting of timbre. It 
is painful to experience. It is like forcing a left-handed child to use his 
right. 

The poor old B.B.C. works away at a sensible standard English, pure 
and unpretentious, but few Englishmen indeed, not born or raised to 
this particular dialect, manage to achieve it, for it takes high dramatic or 
rnimical powers to master the tongue. Mr. Sammy Davis Jr., a per- 
former of kaleidoscopic talent, can reproduce the Queen's English 
almost flawlessly : but attempts by lesser artists are usually excruciatingly 
inept. A lifetime of diplomatic distinction, half a century of Oxford life, 
a gallery of honours, a clutch of directorships often nothing on earth 
can remove from an Englishman's speech the taint of humbler origins, 
keeping his diphthongs just short of perfection, or infusing all his 
charm and learning with a perceptible tang of the provinces. 

It does not matter two twopenny hoots. It will not, in fact,, hamper 
his career or besmirch Ms reputation, except among a madcap remnant 
of third-rate diehards. But from the knowledge of it all true miseries 
can stem, and heavy are the sacrifices the English middle-classes will 

125 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

often make to release their children from die shackles of accent. Mr. 
C. S. Forester, in The General, has brilliantly shown how the spectre of 
mixed origins can haunt a successful Englishman through lifenot as a 
professional handicap but as a cruel personal embarrassment. To lift 
their children out of the paternal standards, to avoid the contagion of a 
simpler past, English families will all but dedicate their lives to giving 
their children a public school education; the fees are enormous, the 
teaching is sometimes inferior, the school is, as often as not, a forlorn 
imitation of older and wiser establishments: but in the social hinter- 
land of England snobbery calls. 

Here in the middle reaches the Two Nations still live. Here the 
dictates of dass powerfully influenced politics, industry, religion, the 
way people live, the things they say, the clothes they wear. Here, 
between the shopkeeper and the barrister, the Englishman is at his 
most self-conscious and conservative, for his ideals are those of the old 
upper classes forty or fifty years back, and he is aiming at targets that 
have long since faded and frayed. The Old School Tie, faithfully 
though some Americans associate it with dukes and earls and Sir Haw- 
kins, is today a middle-class standard, and woven into its multi- 
coloured silks are many threads of sacrifice, anxiety and sham. 

So to the world of 'U% which lies, for all Miss Mitford's noble 
ancestry a little below the social summit, on an elegant plateau of its 
own. This is the comfortable territory of the upper middle-classes, who 
have been gentlemen for generations and can afford to dabble in the 
sweet subtleties of snobbery. Here you will encounter no agonies of 
enunciation, but you will find little that is reckless or unseemly, either. 
Proper conduct here is still governed, contrary to the general belief, 
by the ideals of Beau Brummel, who was far from an outrageous 
dandy, but abhorred all eccentricity and sponsored new standards of 
fastidiousness, restraint and conformity. 

In an officer's mess of the smarter kind the interrogative 'Pardon?' 
will still send a spasm of distaste down through the majors and the 
careful young captains, to eddy a little artificially among the subalterns. 
At this level of society words like 'phone* and 'cycle' really are pro- 
scribed, and the English ideal of unobtrusive formal tailoring is still 
fiercely honoured. The totems and shibboleths are often esoteric, but 
known to one and all: the cartoonist Pont, for example, is fervently 
admired, and so are die novels of Mr. Anthony Powell; bowler hats 

126 



SINGULAR SAXON ATTITUDES 

are seldom curly, moustaches should be close-clipped, pearls are worn 
with twin-sets, *hi-fi' is something it is rather vulgar to understand, 
Calculated but never exactly blatant, is the name-dropping of this 
class, and everyone knows which county regiments are mysteriously 
approved, and which are just a bunch of hicks. 

It is changing, of course, as the world changes, as values blur and 
tastes shift: but this is, for the connoisseur, the most fascinating kind 
of snobbery. The upper middle-classes are not generally 'on the make 9 , 
pushing for their room at the top. They possess the assurance of 
security, and their snobbery is allusive, condescending, wry and intimate. 
With its undertones of loyalty, culture and confidence, it has helped to 
make England great. It is the attitude of the trained elites, the real ruling 
class, ready to accept promising new members, but only on its own 
terms: its own style, its own tongue, its own turn of phrase, its own 
degree of sentiment, its own makes of motorcar. Even Mr. Sammy 
Davis, Jr., though he can capture its jargon to a nicety, could spend 
half a lifetime among it before he mastered the intricacies of its snob- 
bery. 

Two images only remain in this survey of our English snobs: the 
men beyond class, the men outside class. Beyond stand the great noble 
families of England, unpredictable and undefinable, conforming to 
no norm, honouring no common style, their old hauteur crumbling 
into eccentricity or burgeoning into commercialism, some stuffy* 
some racy, some gorgeous, some squalid, some soda-siphon playboys, 
some scholars of infinite sensibility. Snobbery among the real noble- 
men is either so lofty as to be inoffensive, like the heat of distant galaxies, 
or so idiosyncratic as to be meaningless, like the angry dancing of 
speckled spiders. 

And the man outside class? He does not exist. He is a fraud or an 
imposter. The class distinctions of England have long been hazed or 
mangled by history, and across their lines men and women are con- 
stantly moving, blurring the outlines further. But they exist still, 
irremovably, arrogant upon the surface or mysteriously beneath it, 
like the foundations of old forts beneath a cornfield. However tone- 
less your accent and anonymous your clothes, blameless your religion 
and indefinable your opinions your school forgotten and your parents 
abroad, the make of your car a happy medium, the paper you read 
a compromise, the cut of your suit a self-effacement, your mayonnaise 

127 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

a mean between the plebeian and the exquisite however warily, 
modestly, gently you tread, some snob or other will find a category 
for you, and drop you into your class like a wayward pea returned to 
the pod. 

Even worse may happen: for pre-occupied as you may be with the 
meaning of snobbery, and vulnerable always to its spell, you may suc- 
cumb too to the fascination of it all, become a reluctant amateur of 
styles and intonations, think in arrant generalizations of class and 
society, shudder to a half-baked affectation, squirm before an R.A.R 
moustache, respond as starry-eyed as any Carolina matron to the in- 
spiration of the Real Thing. And one swart Friday morning you may 
even mature into the dictionary's last derivative, the Snobographer 
(sb.: a writer on, a describer of, snobs). 



128 



ART i 



Travelling Images Orientations 
Towards New York 



Aists who command serious international attention in their 
own time are rare in the history of British art. So rare indeed 
that the fact that several prominent British painters (not to 
mention sculptors) now sell the greater part of their production abroad 
has gone largely unremarked, and no one has questioned whether one 
should rejoice that at last British art can hold its own in international 
competition, or regret that so much is being exported and lost to the 
country. 

The unprecedented demand does not necessarily mean that British 
painting is better than it has ever been. This may in fact be the case, and 
it is certainly true that the provincialism, and sense of inherent inferiority 
that has dogged British painting for a century now seems to be dis- 
appearing. What is much more relevant however is the progressive 
internationaUzation of art during the present century. Ease of travel and 
communication, and the widespread circulation of paintings, reproduc- 
tions, and art magazines, have produced a situation in which a painter 
can virtually disregard national frontiers. For, in the words of Jackson 
Pollock, *the basic problems of contemporary painting are independent 
of any country *. 

If one wishes to know what British art is most acceptable abroad one 
cannot do better than look at the catalogue of the 1959 Docu- 
menta exhibition at KasseL Tnis was intended to present a compre- 
hensive picture of art since 1945; the selection, made by a relatively 
unprejudiced German committee, was by general agreement a reason- 
able one, although no doubt it erred on the side of the fashionable. 

Ten British painters had their work shown at KasseL The eldest, Mr. 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

Ben Nicholson, was represented by five paintings, prominently hung in 
the main gallery of the exhibition. The others each had two or three 
pictures on view; they were, in age order, Graham Sutherland, Victor 
Pasmore, Francis Bacon, Roger Hilton, William Scott, Bryan Wynter, 
Sidney Nolan, Peter Lanyon, and Alan Davie. This is not an homo- 
genous group (and there are some notable omissions), but it does repre- 
sent an informed foreigner's view of painting in England in 1959, and 
as such warrants closer examination. Apart from Mr. Nolan, who as an 
Australian is a special case, the nine painters may be divided up into 
surrealists (Mr. Bacon and Mr. Sutherland), constractivists (Mr. 
Nicholson and Mr. Pasmore), and abstract expressionists (the five 
younger painters, who were all born 19 1 1-20) . Such generalizations are 
inevitably misleading, but so is almost every label in art, and they will 
serve for the present. 

It is an interesting if not particularly surprising fact that the older 
painters all have their artistic roots firmly planted in the 19305. At this 
time avant garde British art was divided between surrealism and geo- 
metric, or constructivist, abstraction, and this faithfully reflected the 
international situation. Mr. Nicholson was an active member of the 
abstract art movements in England and abroad; his work from 1934 
until 1940 was at its purest and most rigorous. Mr. Bacon on the other 
hand was, like Mr. Ceri Richards (omitted from the Kassel list), pro- 
foundly affected by surrealism, and among the jungle of styles used by 
the surrealists he had already established his individual manner. His 
remarkable consistency up to the present day may be seen from 
the Crucifixion of 1933 which Sir Herbert Read reproduced in 
Art Now. 

Mr. Sutherland and Mr. Pasmore were, at the end of the 1930$, not 
committed to the rival avant-garde styles of surrealism and geometric 
abstraction, but their more recent work links up with precisely this 
phase of English modern art. At the time they were instead about to 
emerge as leading representatives of the two isolationist tendencies 
which dominated the 19405: neo-romanticism and Euston Road real- 
ism respectively. During the war the younger painters turned to native 
models, Samuel Palmer and Sickert, for example, and internationalism 
was in eclipse. 

In the disruption of war the abstract painters found themselves 
physically isolated. Mr. Nicholson left London in 1939 for St. Ives with 

130 



TRAVELLING IMAGES ORIENTATIONS TOWARDS NEW YORK 

his wife, Miss Barbara Hepworth, and with Mr. Nauru Gabo, the con- 
structivist sculptor, who remained in Cornwall until he moved to the 
United States in 1946. Mondrain, too, might have joined them had it 
been possible for him to contemplate living in the country, but he 
insisted on remaining in London until the bombing forced him to take 
refuge in New York. The climate in England was definitely against 
abstraction, and Mr. Nicholson's work became much less geometric. He 
reintroduced landscape and still-life elements into his painting, and felt 
free to range at will between figurative and non-figurative. He was 
perhaps the first artist anywhere to make it plain that one does not 
have to choose for or against abstract art, 

Mr. Nicholson's presence led to St. Ives becoming a centre of modern 
art in England, second only to London. His own work was permeated 
by the light and colour and forms of West Cornwall, and most of the 
younger St. Ives artists may be called landscape painters, however far 
their pictures may be taken towards abstraction. This is most evident 
in the work of Mr. Peter Lanyon, who, starting from Mr, Nicholson 
and Mr. Gabo, has evolved a post-cubist, post-constructivist landscape 
style of increasing painterly freedom. 

In London, however, neo-romanticism remained a powerful force 
right into the late 19405, though many of the younger painters were 
affected by the exhibitions of work by Matisse, Picasso and Klee that 
were held immediately after the War, and their dependence on native 
sources grew less marked. The first move against the romantic tide 
came with Mr. Victor Pasmore's adoption of abstract art in 1947 
when at the height of his reputation as a realist painter. Although it 
now appears a perfectly logical step in Mr. Pasmore's development, it 
could hardly have been a more provocative assertion of the renewed 
vigour of values accepted internationally in the 19305. Mr. Pasmore's 
'conversion' was followed by others, and he was soon leader of a 
militant group of anti-romantic, anti-expressionist abstract painters. 
They refused to give their work any quasi-mystical justification, and 
sought to explore the relationship between art and mathematics and 
science. This led Mr. Pasmore and some of his associates (Mr, Kenneth 
and Mrs. Mary Martin, Mr. Anthony Hill) to the making of relief con- 
structions of painted wood and of new materials, especially plastics, 
and to experiments with fully three-dimensional constructions. Other 
members of the group (Mr. Terry Frost and Mr. Adrian Heath) have 

131 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

remained painters, but their work is more dynamic and expressive 
today than it was in the early 19505. 

For Mr. Sutherland quick success and a changing artistic situation 
brought its own problems. At the end of the war he was the un- 
disputed chef d'ecole of the neo-romantics, among whom may be 
named John Minton, Keith Vaughan, John Craxton and Michael 
Ayrton. He was also the first modern British painter to win a big 
international reputation, notably in the United States and Germany. 
As it became increasingly obvious, however, that romanticism was for 
the time being a spent force in British painting, Mr. Sutherland had to 
find new bearings. He seems to have successfully taken up a position 
close to that of Mr. Francis Bacon, whose loose allegiance to pre-war 
surrealism has already been remarked upon. There was in fact a subtle 
connexion between the wartime isolationist movements of neo- 
romanticism and Euston Road realism and the surrealist and abstract 
art that both preceded and succeeded them. Mr. Sutherland now 
seems rather isolated from the younger painters who prefer Mr. Bacon 
because of his more vigorous handling of paint; the art of both men is, 
however, too individual to be imitated, as those who tried have dis- 
covered. 

Two of the painters chosen at Kassel, Mr. Scott and Mr. Hilton, fit 
into none of the categories already mentioned. They had both studied 
and worked in France before 1939, and after the war tried to re-estab- 
lish contact with what was going on in Paris. They were not so much 
influenced by French artists as interested in what they were trying to do. 
Thus the idea of evolving a more painterly, non-geometrical kind of 
abstract (or semi-abstract) art out of the late works of Bonnard has 
been as much Mr. Scott's concern as it was that of the group of French 
painters around M. Manessier and his teacher L. M. Bissiere (who was 
also Mr. Hilton's master). 

Sir Herbert Read could write in the 1947 Epilogue to Art Now that 
France *in spite of wars and economic catastrophes still retains the un- 
disputed leadership in modern art', but that leadership was soon to be 
challenged, with revolutionary consequences, certainly so far as British 
painting is concerned. The last School of Paris painters to make a deep 
impression here were the Russian, Nicolas de Stael, and the American, 
Sam Francis. The rich impasto and wedges of colour of Stael's 195 1 -54 
pictures weie widely imitated in Britain in the mid-1950s, but this 



TRAVELLING IMAGES ORIENTATIONS TOWARDS NEW YORK 

kind of painting, for all its unquestionable quality, now seems to belong 
to the end of an epoch, whereas Mr. Francis heralded something new. 

Mr, Sam Francis, bom in California in 1923, had settled in Paris in 
1950, and the diaphanous clouds of paint that float over the surfaces of 
his pictures remained one of Monet's Nympheas series and the late 
watercolours of Cezanne. His work was first shown in London in 
1953 at an LC.A. exhibition called 'Opposing Forces', along with that 
of Jackson Pollock, Riopelle and Mathieu, and this was the beginning 
of a wave of American influence that reached its peak a few years 
later. By 1960 the long ascendancy of Paris over modem English art 
was at an end; it would not be untrue to say that the younger painters 
today (those born after 1915) were far more interested in what is 
happening in New York than across the Channel. 

The shift of allegiance, if it can be called this, has been made with 
surprising ease. There are some good reasons for this. Flourishing 
schools of painting are often associated with economic prosperity, and 
one might be justified in expecting a period of particular brilliance in 
the United States today. The war had made the artistic climate in 
New York more international, not less so as in London, because of 
the many European artists who settled there as refugees Leger, 
Masson, Mir6, Tanguy, Mondrian among them. And, finally, the 
chauvinism of the French towards any foreign painter who does not 
live in Paris was compared unfavourably with the lively interest 
Americans had for some time been showing in modern British art. 
When they were invited to visit and exhibit in New York, British 
painters found at once that they had a great deal in common with 
American artists, who were more likely to accept them as equals than 
the French had ever been. Even in the visual arts a common language 
helps. It also means that American art magazines like Art News, Arts, 
It Is, and the writings of American critics like Mr. Clement Greenberg 
and Mr. Harold Rosenberg are easily available to British painters. 

So far as London is concerned the impact of American painting can 
be traced with some exactitude, and because of its importance some 
dates are worth recording. In January 1956 an exhibition of 'Modern 
Art in the United States', selected from the collections of the Museum 
of Modern Art in New York, was shown at the Tate Gallery. In the 
last rooms was a group of enormous abstract pictures by artists who 
have been variously called action painters, abstract expressionists and, 

133 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

best of all, perhaps, as there Is little stylistic coherence, the New York 
School. On view were works by Pollock, Kline, Rothko, Still, De 
Kooning, Gorky, Motherwell, Guston, Tomlin and Tobey. The 
impudent boldness of these pictures was too much for most visitors to 
the exhibition, but when some reappeared at the Tate in February 1959, 
in an exhibition devoted exclusively to 'The New American Painting', 
it was generally agreed that the New York painters represented the 
most exciting new art for many years. In the later exhibition seventeen 
artists showed eighty-one pictures; all the above-named were included, 
together with Brooks, Francis, Gottlieb and Newman. Other exhibi- 
tions, of which by far the most important was the Pollock retrospective 
at the Whitechapel Gallery in November 1958, have helped fill out 
the picture. 

Not every British painter needed these exhibitions to discover 
American painting. One of the first to recognize the importance of the 
new American school was Mr. Alan Davie, who saw work by Pollock 
and Motherwell in Peggy Guggenheim's collection in Venice as early 
as 1948. Pollock was a painter who moved rapidly through several 
distinct phases, and Mr. Davie saw not the drip paintings of 194950 
(probably the peak of Pollock's achievement) but the surrealist- 
expressionist pictures of the 194245 period, in which Imagery emerges 
from the turbulent paint. Mr. Davie has developed this kind of imag- 
istic painting with considerable success, and his work in the late 1950$ 
has an authority that has made him one of the most influential painters 
among the younger generation. 

Mr. Davie* s early direct contact with American painting was excep- 
tional, and the general move towards a more informal style, with a 
much more expressive handling of paint, apparent in painters like 
Lanyon, Scott and Hilton, is all part of an international trend in the 
19505. In 1956, however, immediately after the first American ex- 
hibition in London, there was another bout of conversions to abstract 
painting, but this time to a more expressionist kind of abstraction than 
hitherto. 

In certain cases the conversions were not unprepared for. The change 
in Mr. Rodrigo Moynihan's work was as dramatic as that in Mr. 
Pasmore's, but he had for a time in 1943 painted what were called 
'objective abstractions' in a very informal style, and could be said to be 
reverting to an earlier manner. Mr. Moynihan's new course was per- 

134 



TRAVELLING IMAGES ORIENTATIONS TOWARDS NEW YORK 

haps not directly attributable to American influence, but two St. Ives 
painters were decisively affected. Mr. Bryan Wynter, once a neo- 
romantic landscape painter, reshaped Ms style under the influence of Mr. 
Tomlin and Mr. Tobey (who visited St. Ives in 1955) ; and Mr. Patrick 
Heron abandoned a figurative manner dependent on Braque for a 
more lyrical, entirely abstract style related to Mr. Francis and Mr. 
Rothko. A whole group of younger painters, not long out of art 
school, were all profoundly influenced by the scale, space, gesture and 
imagery of American painting. Their work is not derivative, but it 
is clearly orientated towards New York, and not towards Paris, unlike 
most British avant-garde art during the past eighty years. 

It would be unwise to speculate too much on the developments of 
the past year or two. There does seem to be an increasing interest in 
imagery, sometimes given a deliberate appeal to the unconscious, and 
this has again blurred the distinction between what is abstract and what 
is not. At the same time there has been a reaction against too sloppy 
painting which has resulted in a burst of pictures with hard edges and 
large flat areas of saturated colour. What this is all leading to is hard to 
foretell: one cannot single out the events of major importance until 
there has been time for their repercussions to be observed. 



135 



ART 2 



The Indigenous Romantic Temper 



So much has happened in British life, as in British art, during the 
past two decades that any assessment of the range of the contem- 
porary school is exceedingly hard. The impact of the war years, 
the separation from the Continent which then occurred and the sub- 
sequent renewal of ties have made their mark. Above all, it is the speed 
of life which counts. 

In the modern era nothing is taken for granted. In the rapidly 
evolving, ever changing and highly competitive realm of artistic 
fashions, where pressures of new and even alarming types abound, 
movements wax and wane. All the time novel solutions for artistic 
salvation are being propounded; some break through, securing a solid 
and perhaps permanent hold on the attention, others just peter out. 

The art lover looks over his shoulder. He never knows if, at any 
given moment, an explosion is being quietly prepared, underground, 
literally as well as metaphorically, in one of those small obscure galleries 
of which more than ever emerge in this country. A bomb may be 
detonated which may make nonsense of much that is said and relegate 
to the basements of the museums some of the prized trophies of the 
contemporary scene. 

In the welter of ideas and techniques, proffered on all sides and with 
equal insistence, are there still to be discovered any consistent and con- 
stant elements that link the modern vision with that of the past? The 
artist's means and methods may have changed radically but are there 
some attitudes or moods pointing, for instance, to the survival of a 
national tradition? 

Whether we like it or not, national cultural traditions are to be 

136 



THE INDIGENOUS ROMANTIC TEMPER 

discerned. International styles have always held sway but the alter- 
natives proposed to their general character possess, more often than 
not, a local flavour. In this connexion one has only to turn back to the 
seventeenth century when the Dutch exponents of the Caravaggesque 
movement, now so much in fashion, whether working in Rome or 
back home, betrayed their national affiliations. Their outlook on light, 
on composition, on sex, was essentially Dutch. 

What of the Romantics in the nineteenth century? The fascinating 
exhibition on this subject held in 1959 at the Tate Gallery underlined 
that certain themes dazzled artists all over Europe. But it also stressed 
that their treatment of common sources was different; Turner or 
Caspar David Friedrich found their solace and inspiration in nature, 
but who would hesitate to dub one English, the other German? 

Certain artistic conflicts seem permanent. The struggle between the 
protagonists of colore and dtsegno which raged in the seventeenth 
century may seem distant. Yet it still takes place, though in different 
ways. At the start of the present century the rival attractions of Fauv- 
ism and Cubism offered variants to this battle. Today, the cult of the 
informal in art, with its emphasis on a fluent colourism, and the rear- 
guard action fought by the supporters of a mechanistic abstraction 
continues the same fight. Whether or not this conflict can be simplified 
and interpreted as one between romanticism and classicism is another 
matter. To do so is certainly tempting. 

The use of such terms, as hardly requires emphasis, is ever perilous. 
They are no more than shorthand signs which conveniently indicate a 
broad division in artistic outlook; stragglers and turncoats are found in 
both camps. All the same one can surely maintain that the romantic 
attitude has remained a constant feature of artistic endeavour. Roman- 
ticism itself is perhaps endemic to the arts, especially when practised by 
youthful hands. 

Usually and properly the young are opposed to conventions, to 
society, to parents, and to received ideas in general. Few, like Max 
Beerbohm, are born middle-aged. No the romantic state is part of 
human nature. And many a classical or neo-classical artist has to 
blush for a romantic past; think only of those early terracottas by 
Canova that leap ahead to Gericault. Even a painter like Nicolas 
Poussin, so often hailed as a pillar of classical rectitude, enjoyed a 
romantic phase, flushed with Venetian colour; indeed, his final period, 

137 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

when the classical and romantic elements in his temperament were 
fused, represented a victory for the romantic temperment. He had 
to break rules in order to secure his achievement. 

The very nature of artistic experiment in the first part of the present 
century stimulated a delight in freedom. The reign of the Academy was 
over. Mr. Augustus John's love of gypsies and his panache were as 
romantic as his paintings of Dorelia; from a technical point of view, 
his refined linearisni, tinged with a residue of Puvis de Chavannes's 
idealism, was vivified by a shot of Fauve exuberance. He offered 
entrance to a world that was fancy free; idealistic or romantic, call it 
what you will. No less romantic, in the sense that nature provided a 
spur, was Wilson Steer's interpretation, wispy but personal, of Chep- 
stow and the River Wye. 

Temperamentally the British artist does not lend himself to formal 
discipline. His pragmatism is too embracing for that. The attempts to 
join in the researches into the nature of form that obtained here in the 
19205 and 1930s were often sterile. French painting was frequently a 
snare. Certain artists, a Mathew Smith or a Duncan Grant, could coast 
close to Paris but their frank and robust colourism saved them from 
plagiarism. Mathew Smith, for instance, was activated by a vein of 
expressionist vigour that never deserted him. 

Smith's passion for colour helped to keep alive a tradition that was 
well-nigh submerged during the 19303, the grey days of Baldwinian 
Britain. This, after all, was a time of violent social conflicts; Spain 
Austria, Germany, Nazism, Fascism, and Communism were topics 
that intrigued painter and writer alike; the poet could well feel that he 
had to fulfil the role of an acknowledged legislator. The supporters of 
the Euston Road School considered themselves as the champions of 
realism. Such was the intention; but the result was not always in 
accordance with these terms of reference: Mr. Victor Pasmore's 
gentle canvases provided wistful paraphrases of French intimism. 

How British painting has changed since the pre-war days ! It has 
become the subject of propaganda, a prime favourite of international 
exhibitions, and its artists, headed by Mr. Henry Moore, have won 
distinguished prizes. Looking back, one can perceive that the war was a 
catalytic force. It threw artists on their own resources; it made them 
conscious of a national heritage; and it provided a number of enthr ai- 
ling themes. This state of affairs enabled the other side of British paint- 

138 



THE INDIGENOUS ROMANTIC TEMPER 

ing the neo-romantic consciousness to come to the fore. That this 
was so was partly due to dissatisfaction with Roger Fry's doctrines. Mr. 
Robin Ironside made the point in a short but valuable booklet, Painting 
since 1939, published in 1945, that: 

The mixed emotional undercurrents of recent British painting, nourished 
as they have been by the springs of Continental surrealism and by the dews 
and storms of English Romantic art in the early nineteenth century, arc 
also the signs of a natural strong reaction against the aesthetic purism of 
Fry's critical doctrines. 

Numerous were the artists of quality who had expressed a neo- 
romantic vision in the inter-war period Stanley Spencer, David 
Jones, Ivon Hitchins, and Frances Hodgkins among others. But they 
never quite received their due. Sometimes their work was symbolical or 
religious; at others, it was concerned with a purely lyrical appreciation 
of nature. They also responded to abstraction and surrealism; John 
Tunnard and Paul Nash, for instance, were enriched by their explora- 
tion of the unconscious, and in both cases their findings were closely 
related to their love of landscape. 

Paul Nash was surely one of the most distinguished minor European 
artists of his generation. An intellectual as well as a painter, he was by 
no means averse to experiment, and his inquiry into ways and means 
imparted discipline to his work; thereby the luxuriance of his imagin- 
ation was tinged by a welcome and astringent austerity. His colours 
are perhaps a trifle wan for modern taste but they are not less fascinating 
for that; they corresponded to his intentions. His concern with sym- 
bolism and mysticism, evident since the start, received an additional 
fillip when in 1932 he was commissioned to execute illustrations for 
Sir Thomas Browne's Urne BurialL Then, too, he began to elaborate 
his ideas concerning the relationship between the moon and the stone 
sphere. It was during the war years, when fascinated by aerial combat, 
that his art crystallized. His account (in Picture History) of his last 
sequence of pictures, the 'Sunflower and Sun' series which unfortun- 
ately was left uncompleted at his death, reveals his complex imagery. 

This is the second of a series of paintings of the same conception. The idea 
behind the design is the mystical association of two objects which inhabit 

139 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

different elements and have no apparent relation in life. In the first picture, 
called Pillar and Man, the pale stone sphere on top of a ruined pillar faces 
its counterpart the moon, cold and pale and solid as stone. No legend or 
history attaches to such a picture; its drama is inherent in the scene. Its 
appeal is purely evocatory. That is to say, its power, if power it has, is to 
call up memories and stir emotions in the spectator, rather than to impose 
a particular idea upon him. Even so the animation of such a picture lies in 
its ruling design. Not only does this dictate the nature of the drama, it also 
expresses by its forms and colours the nature of its mystery. 

This final phase in his career underlines that for him, at any rate, the 
concentration on an emotional response to nature and its symholism 
could engender statements in which intensity was heightened rather 
than diminished by restraint. 

For the majority of British painters, now as in the, past, nature, 
a traditional subject for the romantic artist, has formed the principal 
attraction. It was significant of this persistent tendency that in the 
19305, while many of his colleagues were primarily concerned with 
social questions, Mr. Graham. Sutherland should have found inspiration 
in Pembrokeshire, there he began to evolve his personal style. As he 
declared later (Horizon, April 1942) : 

It was in this country that I began to learn painting. It seemed impossible 
here for me to sit down and make finished paintings 'from nature'. Indeed, 
there were no 'ready made' subjects to paint. The space and concentrations 
of this clearly constructed land were stuff for storing in the mind. Their 
essence was intellectual and emotional, if I may say so. I found that I could 
express what I felt only by paraphrasing what I saw. Moreover, such coun- 
try did not seem to make man appear little as does some country of the 
grander sort. I felt just as much part of the earth as my features were part 
of me. I did not feel that rny imagination was in conflict with the real, but 
that reality was a dispersed and disintegrated form of imagination. 

Mr. Sutherland's identification of himself with nature is character- 
istically romantic; and it provides a clue to the personality of one of the 
most secretive of British painters. His early works, especially his prints, 
revealed his interest in Samuel Palmer's paintings and watercolours, 
especially of the Shoreham period. (The revival of this artist was 
another indication of the neo-romantic phase that marked the war- 

140 



THE INDIGENOUS ROMANTIC TEMPER 

time and the immediate post-war era and his influence may be noted in 
Mr. Alan Reynolds.) 

For Mr. Sutherland the tormented aspects of Nature trees, tangled 
underwoods and thorn structures offered the inspiration that he 
required. Yet he has not remained constant to this love; he has tried out 
his hand, successfully, at religious painting. His subsequent develop- 
ment, as portraitist, as a recorder of Venice and as a landscape painter, 
has brought out that side of his art, which previously could only be 
glimpsed. He has shown himself as a^/m de siecle mannerist and a descen- 
dant of that 'Horrific Romantic' style that prevailed at the close of the 
eighteenth century. 

The historian, indeed, may well reflect upon the existence of this 
strain at the present time. And no doubt a Mario Praz of the future will 
have much to say about the romantic agony of our own generation. 
That there is one is certain. Mr. Sutherland's own love for blacks, 
glittering golds and almost surrealist images is shared by Mr. Francis 
Bacon. This artist's tortured physiognomies, his use of silver and grey 
and his dramatic and anguished expressiveness link him up with the 
fevered and neurotic world of a Fuseli and a Hay don. Mr. Nolan, that 
Australian expatriate who has aroused such interest in London, is to be 
connected with the same school. 

Comparisons with the past, though frequently misleading, are often 
seductive. The picturesque, as William Gilpin's theories indicated, 
foreshadowed the romantic movement itself. In our own era Mr, 
John Piper's quest for the unusual building (the quaint little chapel, for 
instance) as well as his antiquarianisrn are as picturesque as Mr. John 
Betjeman's verse; a little arch but charming none the less. How bril- 
liant of their sort are his watercolours of Windsor Castle which were 
commissioned by the Queen (now the Queen Mother) in 1941 and as 
Mr. Ironside has declared: 

The charm of the subject must be sufficiently adventitious to the ordinary 
intelligent eye, but Piper's responsive interpretation has succeeded in 
imposing upon the useless battlements and turrets, with his dark skies and 
flashes of yellow light, an almost Spenserian magic. 

That Mr. Piper should have painted in this way during the war was 
significant. The high ride of the neo-romantic movement occurred then, 
when personal consciousness was impelled by feverish energy, as is 

141 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

attested by Mr. Henry Moore's impressive shelter drawings. Has the 
neo-romantic attitude gone under since then, like so much else from 
this era? This is a large question difficult of solution while the fray is 
still on. New forms, new approaches social realism and action 
painting among them have come to the fore; yet that old romantic 
urge is still to be detected. 

Take only the case of Mr. Ceri Richards, whose work has substan- 
tiated the current relevance of the romantic style, though in his case 
it is couched in a semi-abstract manner. His series of pictures on the 
theme of La Cafhedrak cngloutle, with their musical implications, are 
rich in evocative memories: delicate hints too. Among the younger 
generation, Mr. Hamilton Fraser with his Turneresque voluntaries or 
Mr. Peter Lanyon, that explosive poet of the Cornish scene, are just as 
much a part of the neo-romantic movement as a David Jones or a Paul 
Nash. Their impulses are related, even if the means employed are 
different. Moreover, Mr. Edward Middleditch, once a white hope of 
realism, has now turned to poetical paraphrases of nature while Mr. 
James Howie, a new recruit from Scotland, has invested his cavernous 
compositions with a dreamy, fanciful note. 

Action painting itself, one of the dominating and most influential 
styles of the present day, is essentially romantic. It relies on a personal 
reaction which brooks no rules and it diverges from the norm. Its 
practitioners here are supporters of color e rather than disegno. How 
sprightly their attack on the canvas can prove is shown by the vivid 
impasto favoured by Mr. Frank Avray Wilson or Mr. Denis Bowen. 
Theirs is that delight in the sketchy quality of paint which in the 18205 
Hazlitt found so characteristic of the British school as compared to the 
French. 

"Whatever the subsequent rulings on contemporary British art may 
be, one can hardly deny that our painters, varied and energetic, now 
revel in a new freedom. No longer a prey to inferiority in respect of 
their Continental colleagues, they are prepared to be themselves and to 
flaunt an allegiance to colour, an old allegiance, one might add. That 
this is so is largely due to the persistence of the romantic vision. 



142 



ART 3 



Sculptural Satisfactions 



Since the war British artists have given a lead to modern move- 
ments in sculpture throughout the world. There are two reasons : 
we have a group of gifted artists, and an enlightened and 
forward-looking policy in official, civic and private patronage of the 
arts. 

In the 19405 the government institutions designed to promote 
culture crystallized after the war into national buying and distributing 
units such as the Arts Council and the British Council. Both developed 
a courageous programme of backing modern movements in sculpture 
as well as painting and thus struck a balance with the more conserva- 
tive and traditional approach of the Royal Academy, the Royal Society 
of British Sculptors and other longer established groups. It must be 
remembered that, even such a short time ago as 1950, 'modern' as it 
was then termed sculpture had far less general acceptance than 
'modern' painting. 

All the more remarkable was the balanced and catholic selection of 
the first Battersea Open Air Exhibition of Sculpture put on by the Arts 
Council and the London County Council in 1948. This experiment and 
the subsequent exhibitions had great influence not only at home but 
throughout the world. The example has since been copied in many 
countries. The importance of Battersea lay not only in the fact of an 
exhibition of sculpture shown in a relatively new setting, at least so far 
as the mass of the people were concerned, but also in the fact that 
sculpture was shown in its own right and not as lesser sister to painting 
or as ancillary to architecture. 

In Britain there were also further developments, such as the ill-feted 
but extremely interesting competition of the Unknown Political 

143 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

Prisoner', or the commissions given to artists for the 1951 Festival of 
Britain. Commissions from local authorities for schools, housing estates 
and the New Towns expanded. Circulating collections, such as those 
put out by the Arts Council and British Council, the Contemporary 
Arts Society or the Circulation Department of the Victoria and 
Albert Museum made a significant contribution. This movement has 
led to the return of a public sympathy towards sculpture, a sympathy 
which had been prejudiced between the wars by the demands of 
economy and the general tendency towards simplicity. It has also done 
much to remove the earlier prejudice against 'modern' sculpture as a 
stylistic development. While there has been nothing comparable to the 
American zest for contemporary art (and a majority of the people may 
not prefer modern to traditional sculpture), more and more, especially 
among the young, do appreciate what is of their own time and are 
prepared to look on any manifestation without prejudice, liking or 
disliking on a sensible basis of reasoned personal taste. 

Private patronage of course lacks the ample houses and ample in- 
comes it enjoyed before 1914 when elaborate monuments to the dead or 
elaborate 'statuary' in the home were still fashionable. Nevertheless 
there are still a few notable collectors as selective and critical as the best 
of the earlier generations, and today, if there are few large private 
commissions, bronzes and sculptures of merit by modern artists that 
can be placed in contemporary homes seldom lack a purchaser. In 
addition to this patronage intelligent critics, art dealers and generous 
individuals deserved credit that sculpture is in a reasonably flourishing 
state, for without them many a promising young artist, now established, 
might have given up long ago. 

On the other hand, a certain amount of indifferent sculpture is to 
be found all over the country. Whether academic or modern, this may 
arise from sheer bad taste or from mistaken charity or mistaken 
enthusiasm on the part of individuals or committees more eager to 
give employment to a local artist, an old student or even 'a nice chap' 
out of a job than to acquire the best available piece of sculpture. What- 
ever their motives, the dissemination of second-rate work may do 
more to kill the growing appreciation for sculpture than having none 
at all. 

The same problem besets patronage by the Church, by business and 
by industry. There have been a few notably successful commissions 

144 



SCULPTURAL SATISFACTIONS 

but often artistic excellence has been sacrificed to other considerations. 
Interesting in this context is the fact that the 'twenties' movement, 
which sought a return to the intimate traditional association between 
sculpture and architecture, seems to find no widespread response in the 
modern idiom, apart from occasional reliefs. Sculpture may be intro- 
duced as an independent element in a larger complex or planted on a 
building, as with the Hepworth at Holborn, or the Cavendish Square 
Epstein. But, whatever the reason, architects are more attracted to a 
two-dimensional painterly alliance, whether of simple colour or 
murals or mosaics, than to any such integral association with sculpture 
as in the St. James's Park station or even in Moore's post-war work 
on the Time and Life building. 

If artists, like man, cannot live by bread alone, they certainly cannot 
live without it. We have accorded a certain amount of space to note 
some aspects of patronage and distribution for modern sculpture in 
Britain because these have played an all-important part in its contem- 
porary development. Recent commissions in the larger centres are en- 
couraging and the best talent cannot complain of a total lack of support. 
If the best examples were followed throughout the country the diffi- 
culty might be to find sufficient talent deserving of public recognition 
and display. 

An important issue for any national art at any time is the problem 
of the next generation. This concerns not only training but provision 
for the postgraduate stage when the student is thrown out on the world 
to develop his personality as an artist and find his market. The great 
artists who dominate the scene are born and not made though even 
genius needs to eat while pursuing its natural development, Neverthe- 
less, as the Middle Ages proved so well, a reasonable amount of good 
talent can always be found and made by training and by the prospect 
of a living afterwards. 

For the first stages of training contemporary British sculpture is 
well provided and even pampered. The intermediate stage is less satis- 
factory and many a promising student is faced on leaving art school 
with a cessation of all grants and support but with no real chance of 
making a living. In 1960 we really would seem to have achieved that 
stage at which no youth, male or female, with serious talent and inten- 
tions need be thwarted by lack of money to train. The potentialities 
are probably better in the larger towns but some facilities are available 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

almost anywhere, while partial or total grants for advanced training 
are numerous and adequate. 

Furthermore, public support for training in art has undergone a 
considerable change of heart as well as of purse. Officially as well as 
privately the pursuit of art is no longer regarded as a sign of decadence 
and idleness only to be tolerated by well-integrated persons when the 
artist has become a marked financial success in later life. 

The problems of the contemporary art school arise rather from the 
circumstances of modern life. Spiritually, the bewildering range of 
books, exhibitions, photographs and even films subject the student 
of today at an early age to many individual, national and international 
influences. Also in Great Britain the later school-leaving age, and until 
recently military service, tended to present the more advanced institu- 
tions with a student body technically and physically more adult than 
hitherto and perhaps for that reason also less ready to accept a formal 
academic discipline. All these factors, combined with reasonable 
economic freedom, create a very different situation from that where 
an impoverished and probably untravelled student in his early teens 
sat at the feet of his master acquiring and accepting a time-honoured 
academic training and background. 

Colleges have become hesitant to interfere with the individual, and 
the training period comes to be regarded largely as an opportunity 
to work with professional and technical instruction if required. This 
is no doubt right; the comment is not intended as a criticism; but it is 
necessary to underline the circumstances which make for the extra- 
ordinary range of contemporary styles to be found in English sculp- 
ture today. If no Battersea exhibition is afraid of harbouring everything 
from the extremest academic to the most advanced member of the last 
splinter group there can be few art schools which will not do the 
same. 

As has been suggested, a gap in the ideal patronage is the lack of any 
provision for the really promising art student after leaving school 
except for the questionably useful job of teaching. Even when patrons 
buy generously there is almost inevitably a period of some years from 
the time a student leaves college until he develops technically and 
spiritually into an artist who can command sufficient money to live 
simply by his work. Certainly this is the case with sculpture where all 
the technical needs and materials are expensive. It seems quixotic that 

146 



SCULPTURAL SATISFACTIONS 

a state which provides generously for training should fail to provide 
sufficiently at least for the cream of its trainees to mature into good and 
useful artists, which was the purpose of spending money on them when 
young. Indeed if the results of larger competitions are any guide, it 
might possibly be an advantage if a less generous distribution was made 
to any teenager with an urge for art and the savings put to use as post- 
graduate support for those who really matter. 

Against this background, what of the protagonists? Though neither 
the Academics nor the Moderns much like to admit the other's exist- 
ence as serious and important to British sculpture, the layman who 
cares to look will find a reasonable cross-section from extreme left to 
fairly extreme right. He would probably also find that almost every 
artist was prepared to admit that so far as British sculpture and the 
world are concerned two figures stand apart as the most distinguished 
exponents: that of the late Sir Jacob Epstein as the grand old man 
getting perhaps a little traditional with the passage of time, and that of 
Henry Moore. 

This is no slight to other sculptors and both the Academy and the 
left can put a reputable team into the field. It may be significant of the 
new respect for sculpture that the Royal Academy selected a sculptor 
for its President. In any event from among the members of that body 
alone we have Charoux, Dobson, Lambert, Nimptsch, Skeaping and 
Wheeler. For the moderns, quite apart from Moore, we can choose for 
the senior team of over forties among Adams, Armitage, Butler, 
Chadwick, Hepworth, Meadows, MacwiUiam who seems to belong 
here in spite of his Academy associations Pasmore and others; while 
the colts can offer a very encouraging group from whom to pick, 
including Brown, Caro, Clarke, Clatworthy, Dal wood, Frink, Hos- 
kins, Paolozzi, Thornton, Wall, Young and so on. But here we should 
stop the recital of names, for there are many other artists of repute both 
among the traditionalists as well as the moderns, including portraitists 
and animal carvers. At least these serve to show that wide range of 
contemporary work which is the keynote of today. 

Is there any particularly English quality common to some or to all 
of these artists to set them apart from those of other countries? As a 
whole most of the older sculptors, whether to the right or left, do show 
a definable, reticent, lyrical, even slighdy melancholy quality that 
follows an English tradition. Among most of the younger artists the 

14? 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 



international influences have taken over, and though it may be possible 
to suggest a stylistic ancestry for one or another, it will usually be 
purely personal to some individual artist, but not to any national 
movement or national characteristic. If we were to compare, for 
example, a Henry Moore reclining figure with an English Roman- 
esque or Gothic carving there would appear to be qualities in common. 
The restraint to which we referred, the sense of controlled inner con- 
flict, the rather solid earthbound personality, like the broad simplicity 
of the handling, would seem to arise from an English tradition of 
balance and understatement. The same fundamental characteristics 
might be held to soften the points and edges of a Chadwick or even the 
ferocity of a Clatworthy bull in contrast, say, to a Rozsak or a Lipchitz. 
On the other hand, it would not be surprising to find a Thornton, a 
Clarke, or a Paolozzi under any national flag. 

It has been suggested that the geographical distribution of British 
sculptors, many of whom live outside London, leads to a greater in- 
dividuality in their work, as against the dominance of Paris, for 
example, with its school influence. Certainly it is often difficult and 
even unwise to attempt to classify British artists strictly under group 
headings. Although one or another of the current categories may be 
applicable one year there is no reason why it may not change the next. 
If former Moderns have become today's Academicians, yesterday's 
abstract may well be tomorrow's figurative. The first we see in the case 
of Dobson, Durst or Skeaping, for example, whose simplification of 
detail and stylization of form were want garde in the 19208. With 
their more marked anatomical deviations, MacwiUiam's figure 
sculptures might be held to belong in the same tradition, yet this year 
in Battersea he exhibits a successful mass form of an entirely different 
approach. 

Many sculptors, like Miss Barbara Hepworth, have retained a fairly 
consistent preoccupation with pure form or form and space, as opposed 
to the figurative or narrative. This is true of many of the younger 
'iron boys' who are variously engaged on different aspects of the same 
problem whether it be static forms existing in their own right and 
placed in a space to which they have no intimate relation, or active 
linear forms which may enclose space or burst through it but which 
are intimately connected with the space around them. Occasionally 
some narrative element creeps in if only in the title but it is really 

148 



SCULPTURAL SATISFACTIONS 

secondary. It is interesting here to notice that the mobiles and linear 
abstractions in wire and metal seem to be losing ground in favour of 
more concrete, if not directly figurative, statements. 

In the same way, the baroquely sensual productions of Mr. Reg 
Butler and the art brut followers of a year or two ago seem to be fining 
down, whether figurative or not. The former's virtually recognizable 
sections of a body hurtling through a space of linear forms offer an 
interesting combination of sculptural approaches. Certainly they show a 
marked interest in movement, with which many of the younger 
artists are deeply concerned although it has generally tended to be out 
of favour since the narrative sculptors of the earlier part of the century. 
The changeover was noticeable in the architectural trend of many 
memorials of the First World War. Their reticence in comparison 
with the dramatic statements of the French examples is striking. The 
static approach was continued by most of the artists of the late 19205 
and 19305, particularly those who conceived of sculpture as contained 
essentially within the block of its own material. Like Giacometti or 
the abstract sculptors abroad the younger generation at home have 
revived the pursuit of movement both as a contributory quality and 
even for its own sake. 

What stand out clearly are the vigour and inventiveness of contem- 
porary British sculpture, at least among the moderns. Whether it be 
Moore himself or the youngest entry, every year or two shows the 
artist with a new style, a new interest, a new approach and often a new 
medium. Like Moore, with his reclining figures, artists may return 
to a favourite theme, but it is likely to be only a few months before 
they set out on another voyage of exploration. To choose at random, 
we have but to consider the work of Chadwick or Butler, Dalwood, 
Meadows or Macwilliam over the past few years to feel the vitality 
and urgency within the movement as a whole. It is also fair to look 
upon this restlessness as a positive forward-looking exploration com- 
parable to that of modern science, rather than as the desperate search, 
for something new that may attack an old and jaded palate. 



149 



ARCHITECTURE 



The Architect's Ideas Begin to Take Shape 



In architecture, much more than in the other arts, there is a marked 
time-lag between the emergence of ideas and their application 
in the shape of completed buildings. This is because architecture 
depends on the patron or client as well as on the designer, who must 
work within the limitations, aesthetic and programmatic, that the 
character of the client imposes. 

The buildings going up at any given moment therefore give only 
a partial view of the ideas present in architects* minds. Buildings are the 
only proper evidence of the state of architecture, and judged by current 
British buildings as a whole the state of architecture in Britain is con- 
fused though not so confused as ten years ago and the proportion of 
poor-quality buildings that seems to be found acceptable by the client, 
the public and by many architects is depressingly large. 

But since buildings are erected for all sorts of reasons that have 
nothing to do with the imagination they are a response to a demand 
like any other commercial product, and there is always someone willing 
to satisfy every demand it is not unfair, when seeking to analyse the 
creative forces behind British architecture, to discount the many build- 
ings designed by second-rate architects and those which are the result 
of a total lack of interest in the visual outcome of a building enterprise. 
Attention need be paid only to that small part of the country's archi- 
tectural output that can be described as being impelled by any imagina- 
tive force. 

British architecture is still dominated by the conditions created at the 
end of the war, when, as a matter of Government policy, the task 
of meeting the enormous need for new buildings was put almost wholly 

150 



THE ARCHITECT S IDEAS BEGIN TO TAKE SHAPE 

in the hands of public authorities; then, and for several years afterwards, 
stringent restrictions were placed on privately financed building. This 
meant that the bulk of architectural design was carried out by architects 
in public employ, either in the offices of county and city councils or of 
specially set up bodies like the development corporations of the new 
towns. 

Architecture became essentially a team effort, a matter of close co- 
operation with other groups of officials educationists, housing special- 
ists, town-planners and the like whose first aim was to seek out the 
architectural opportunities latent in the new town-planning legislation, 
the new Education Act and so on. Architecture having become but 
one manifestation of a new social programme, the leaders of architec- 
tural thought and practice were administrators rather than designers. 
As a result, in post-war Britain the phenomenon of the celebrity 
architect, whom the younger and less ambitious members of the pro- 
fession reverence and look up to as a creative artist, has ceased to exist. 
The answer to the popular question who are the outstanding archi- 
tects in Britain today? is that there are none. The best work being 
done is anonymous group work. 

This preoccupation with architecture as a social service, with the set- 
ting of standards and with the establishment of functional norms, has 
led to the emergence of a somewhat impersonal style, in which the 
architect's imagination has been strictly controlled by the economics 
of space and structure. Typical of this style are the hundreds of new 
school buildings which represent, on the whole, Britain's most disr- 
tinguished contribution to architecture since the war. Their unassuming, 
anonymous quality, and the fact that no one example is outstanding, 
expresses the interest taken by their designers in achieving the greatest 
possible integration between architecture, its social ends and its tech- 
nical means, rather than in the creation of architectural monuments in 
their own right. This opportunity arose from the fact that in the post- 
war years educational methods as well as architectural ideas were in the 
melting pot, which meant that both the architects and their clients 
were in a mood to experiment. 

Pioneered in Hertfordshire and subsequently taken up by official 
and private architects all over the country, this new idiom of school 
building attracted so much attention abroad because, perhaps for the 
first time on a scale that allowed ideas to be developed and corrected 

151 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

during the course of a long-term programme of work, the industrializa- 
tion of building methods and the prefabrication of components had 
been allowed to play the dominant part assigned to them in the theories 
about the nature of modern architecture current for many years past; 
also because the idiom proved flexible enough to be adaptable to varia- 
tions of siting and accommodation, thus allaying the fear that a highly 
mechanized building process might produce a too rigidly standardized 
end-product. 

Architectural enterprise in the field of housing, which was similarly 
inspired by the challenge of new social (and in this case also town- 
planning) programmes, has been largely restricted since the war to 
high-density housing in the centres, or in a few places on the fringes, 
of large cities. Small-scale housing in the shape of suburban-style two- 
storey developments has followed traditional patterns, not from any 
lack of interest in the problem these present on the part of the more 
progressive architects but because the experiments and ideas on the 
subject of prefabrication in housing, with which such architects were 
closely concerned at the end of the war and which promised to revolu- 
tionize the basic conception of house design, evaporated in the face of 
the house building industry's unwillingness to adapt itself to mechan- 
ization. The technique of house building remained tied to the industry's 
craft-based traditions. 

The only type of dwelling that can be said to have fully recognized 
the implications of prefabrication and mass-production the caravan 
is produced outside the building industry and without the participation 
of the architectural profession, and is not subject to housing by-laws or 
town-planning regulations. The caravan could have been the link 
between established architectural methods and the young architects* 
interest in the impact of scientific engineering on design and pro- 
duction. 

Another reason why small-scale housing has failed to provide 
modern architecture with the inspiration the importance of the housing 
programme deserved is the conventional types of layout to which 
house-designers have been bound, especially in local authority develop- 
ments and in the new towns, by the need to follow the prejudices and 
predilections of non-professional committees. Town-planning in 
Britain, though in advance of the rest of the world as regards its 
general legislative framework and system of land-use controls, suffers 

152 



THE ARCHITECT S IDEAS BEGIN TO TAKE SHAPE 

from being negative rather than positive and, being a local govern- 
ment activity, is operated by politicians who have little of the creative 
sense, and little of the visual cEscrirmnation, that architects could bring 
to it. 

Architects have in such ways been too frustrated by technical and 
planning limitations to make any very positive contribution in the 
field of housing, except where high land-costs or shortage of sites have 
necessitated building to high densities and making full use of modern 
structural techniques. On such occasions it is notable that the most inter- 
esting British work still derives many of its qualities directly from the 
social programme. For example, in the design of high blocks of 
dwellings a typically British contribution is the exterior based on a 
double-storey unit which results from a preference for the maisonnette 
rather than the flat all on one level that is, for the dwelling in which 
the bed rooms are above the living rooms and are reached by an internal 
stair. This has done much to humanize the scale, and counteract the 
repetitive monotony, of the large residential block. 

Similarly in the case of urban housing layouts the social desirability 
of providing a wide range of dwelling types in any one neighbourhood 
has led to many experiments in mixed development, in which tall 
blocks are contrasted with lower blocks and terraces of small houses 
a kind of development found also in Scandinavia but not commonly 
elsewhere. Layouts of this kind, for example in the London County 
Council's new housing estates at Roehampton, have provided oppor- 
tunities to exploit the British sympathy with picturesque rather than 
formal qualities of design, which, has persisted since the eighteenth 
century but might have been thought incompatible with the rationalist 
basis of modern architecture. In this kind of planning, in much recent 
British town design and in the grouping together of disparate build- 
ings for purposes like universities, an instinct for romanticism, a 
preference for the informal and an ability to exploit accidents of siting, 
point the direction in which the British imagination tends to stray 
away from the internationally accepted norms of modern architecture. 

If one of the central beliefs of the present generation of British archi- 
tects is that they cannot isolate themselves from current human and 
social developments, another is that still less can their work be isokted 
from the phenomenon that dominates all contemporary life: the 
forward march of science. The most important task of architecture in 

153 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

our day is to come to terms with the new resources in the way of 
techniques and materials that science has put at its disposal, both func- 
tionally and aesthetically. There have been times in the past when the 
limits of architectural achievement have been set by what can and what 
cannot be done technically, but nowadays there is very little that can- 
not be done. Architects are confronted by infinite and bewildering 
possibilities, and the process of deploying them efficiently and evolving 
some order out of them is always lagging behind the invention of still 
newer technical devices. 

The contemporary architect is continually aware, consciously or 
unconsciously, of the pressure of scientific evolution. His awareness 
takes several forms. One is a kind of architectural death-wish, in which 
he sees architecture, as he knows it at present, swallowed up by the 
increasing domination of science, and is prepared to accept changes that 
would involve a wholly new conception of architecture one in which 
the imaginative content is totally changed and is recast to bring it into 
line with the part already played by imagination in experimental 
science. Aesthetic values based on humanist judgments he regards with 
suspicion, and this questioning of established methods leads naturally 
to new thinking about the relationship between architects, engineers 
and builders. The expectation of changes in such relationships leads 
in turn to a reconsideration of the basis of architectural education. 

Strangely enough, parallel with this almost nihilist attitude to archi- 
tecture as it has hitherto existed, is a new interest in architectural 
history. Instead of being regarded as relevant only to students of the 
past, history has begun to be looked upon as contiguous to the present. 
Young architects are conscious of, and influenced by, recent modes of 
expression that would have been ignored and despised a generation ago, 
just because they were so recent. This does not imply the imitation of 
work done a generation ago ; it takes the form of a continuous probing 
into earlier motives and beliefs and an apparent need to return to 
already trodden ground almost as though each generation, in the face 
of the confused situation created by the impact of science, had to solve 
every problem from the beginning instead of building steadily on the 
foundations laid for it by previous generations. 

Another reaction to the dominating role of science is to adopt its 
natural idiom that of an anonymous perfectionism and relate the 
aesthetic ideals of modern architecture exclusively to it. Hence the 

154 



THE ARCHITECT'S IDEAS BEGIN TO TAKE SHAPE 

respect paid to Professor Mies van der Rolie, whose work represents 
the ultimate development of a style based on industrialized building 
techniques. Professor Mies's own standards, in terms of craftsmanship 
and aesthetics, are still beyond British capacities in spite of the pre- 
dominance of curtain-wall and similar structures in British cities, but 
admiration for them continues, perhaps, however, accompanied by a 
growing realization that the very perfectionism they depend on could 
lead architecture into a dead end. 

A contrast, and a sign of the confusion of purpose that still obtains 
in British architecture, is the equal reverence paid to M. Le Corbusier. 
Usually a great man's influence waxes and wanes, and each generation 
reacts against whatever its predecessor admired. But M. Le Corbusier's 
influence has never abated. He repeatedly shows his ability to shake 
himself free from the bonds of architectural dogma, of which the 
English, with their preference for the particular over the general, are 
perennially suspicious, and perhaps the younger architects find some- 
thing reassuring in the startling lack of consistency between his own 
theoretical pronouncements and Ms practices. It is against dogmas 
he helped to establish that M. Le Corbusier seems often to be 
reacting. 

Whatever the explanation, the plastic inventiveness to be seen in his 
church at Ronchamp and his vigorous use of concrete in the raw in the 
high court and secretariat at Chandigarh (and, on a smaller scale, in 
the Jaoul houses) seem to have anticipated the desires of British archi- 
tects more closely than those of architects elsewhere. They have had 
a violent impact on the younger generation's thinking, and even the 
cliches employed to give style to the work of those who have not yet 
evolved a style of their own are taken from M. Le Corbusier. 

A search for a richer vocabulary of forms a vocabulary no longer 
limited by the rectilinear forms of post and beam construction no 
doubt explains the variety of stylistic trends that have enlivened 
aesthetic argument in Britain in recent years. But they also reflect the 
fact that the imagination is better stimulated by the pursuit of idiosyn- 
crasy than of conformity. Such trends include the so-called 'brutalism', 
the placing of a special emphasis on the qualities of materials 'as found' 
and the exploitation of the plastic, as distinct from the linear, qualities 
inherent in modern architecture's most significant material, reinforced 
concrete; hence the attention paid in Britain to the experiments in the 

155 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

use of shell concrete conducted in Italy by Professor Pier Luigi Nervi, 
in Spain by Senor Torroja and in Mexico by Seiior Candela. 

Brutalism is not, as its name might suggest, a cult of the ugly but an 
attempt to extract the essential qualities of materials and structures by 
eschewing any extraneous finishes or treatments that would soften or 
modify the impact of those qualities. It implies, at the same time, a 
rejection of the artificial elegances by means of which a machine-age 
architecture is given the character of yet another sophisticated style. 

None of these aesthetic trends, passionately and sometimes rather 
perversely pursued, amounts, it should be emphasized, to a retreat from 
the basic principles of modern architecture the principles formulated 
by C.I.A.M. (the Congres Internationaux d' Architecture Modeme) 
which provided the leadership, and codified the beliefs, of the archi- 
tectural revolution of the 19205 and the 19305. These principles are 
accepted in Britain as elsewhere along with the need to relate means 
to needs as closely as possible and to base every work of architecture not 
on pictorial preconceptions but on a functional analysis of the building 
programme. 

For in spite of subsequent developments and diversities, the most 
striking thing about modern architecture is that it is still international. 
This article ought to conclude by defining what is peculiarly British 
about the trends it has tried to isolate. But in fact modern British 
architecture, except perhaps in its occasional deviation towards the 
picturesque, is related to no national characteristics. The problems it is 
trying to face are common to many countries, and the differences found 
in Britain are explained either by circumstances such as the more 
advanced planning legislation or educational organization allowing 
British architects to progress faster along certain common paths, or by 
other circumstances having made them less adept at handling certain 
technical problems. Differences are differences of degree of achieve- 
ment; hardly at all of kind. 

It may be that a specifically British attitude to architecture, linked 
with a typically British exercise of the imagination, is due to emerge. 
But a conscious effort to create something British is at present quite 
foreign to the direction of British architects' thinking. 



156 



MUSEUMS 



Housing and Showing our Treasures 



Kings, and other great persons, have always had treasure-houses 
where they accumulated, indiscriminately, mere bullion and 
jewels and objets d'art. It was as if the Treasury (in its modern 
sense), the Bank of England and the British and Victoria and Albert 
Museums should all be housed under one roof. It is plain that the Kings 
ofjudah, for example, regarded even the temple plate as a national asset 
to be melted down in time of war. Gradually there came to be a dis- 
tinction between national and royal property and between mere coni- 
merical value and aesthetic value. The royal palace became a museum 
of beautiful things, and perhaps the ideal museum even today is the 
abandoned palace of a prince who reigned for not too long a period: 
a period which coincided with one of the great epochs of the world's 
art. 

It was only in the eighteenth century that museums began to be 
looked upon as public institutions and only in the nineteenth that the 
move to establish them gathered momentum. Now museums are 
everywhere, and they range from the great national institutions to the 
little room in the village hall with half a dozen stuffed birds, a shelf of 
flint arrowheads and a few bits of Indian brassware brought back by 
the local bigwig from his tour of the East. 

Muscology, the scientific approach to the problems of museums, has 
only recently begun to receive the attention it deserves. What should 
a museum be, how should it be organized? What should it collect, and, 
more important still, what should it not collect? These are problems 
of almost infinite complexity, varying in the most perplexing fashion 
with national history and local conditions. The very growth of 

157 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

museums, once a source of natural satisfaction, has now become the 
most pressing problem of museum directors. There is no limit to the 
possible accumulation of objects, for even if there is no money for 
purchase, gifts and bequests will soon tax the capacity of the museum 
building to the utmost. 

Too often, such gifts and bequests are the death of the usefulness of 
a museum. There are too heterogeneous, the sole connecting link 
being a personal relationship which has no meaning once the collection 
has passed out of private hands. But even in the best-organized 
museums which rigidly confine themselves to one particular line, the 
danger of overcrowding is increasingly acute. Our sense of historical 
period, now so sharply developed, our unwillingness to destroy (with 
the unfortunate exception of architecture, which of all the arts is the 
most difficult to replace), mean that in a few hundred years' time the 
whole world will be in danger of becoming one vast museum. 

In China, in primitive times, whenever there was a change of dynasty 
the edict went forth to destroy all the tombs existing at that particular 
time. Only so could the soil of China be preserved from the ever- 
encroaching acreage of the graveyard. Museums are graveyards unless 
some central purpose, some controlling impulse, can be found to give 
them life. Museums or mausoleums? That is the question; and in the 
answer to that question can be found the solution of the difficulties of 
organizing a successful museum. 

The problem is enormously complicated once the aesthetic criterion 
enters into the question, and is most acute in museums of decorative art. 
It was the hope of the founders of such institutions that the artists of the 
future would be able to come and study in them, to see the best of what 
had been done in previous ages, and to model their style upon that. The 
danger of this is that the prestige of the antique sterilizes the inventive 
effort of the modern artist to such a degree that the world today is full 
of period copies. Modern creative work is dogged by the shadow of the 
past. 

There is another difficulty, not clearly foreseen by those who hoped 
to find in the museum the solution of aesthetic problems. Let us, they 
said, only collect what is good. In theory it is simple enough; in practice 
nothing is more difficult. For taste, the theory of what is good in the 
work of the past, varies from age to age. Ruskin's detestation of the 
'baroque' is not shared by many people today. The sham-Gothic 

158 



HOUSING AND SHOWING OUR TREASURES 

which, resulted from his teaching is prized, if at all, only as an amusing 
trifle like a valentine, or an inlaid mother-of-pearl table. There is a 
gap in appreciation which makes it impossible for any age to appreciate 
the work of its immediate predecessor. We all tend to destroy the 
works of our fathers and preserve those of our grandfathers; and per- 
haps this is, after all, a good thing, as, otherwise, the world would be 
cluttered up with an innumerable quantity of miscellaneous objets d'arL 

If we reject the idea of a museum as a mere collection of 'curios' and 
also the notion that * beauty' (which means, in practice, contemporary 
fashion) can ever be a safe guide, what criterion is left? Historical 
sequence, perhaps, but even this raises some fundamental problems. 
There can be no such thing as a museum of universal history; such a 
museum would be as extensive as the earth itself. There must be some 
kind of selection, some kind of strong central thread on which the 
beads can be strung. 

It is rightly admitted that the museum of natural history was made 
possible only by the general acceptance of the Darwinian Theory. It 
is only when Nature is envisaged as one that the multitudinous objects 
in a natural history museum fall into place; what was a heap of curio- 
sities becomes a scheme of life. In 'history*, tout court, however, the 
matter is not so simple. 

No Darwin has yet arisen to provide us with a central thread, 
although, no doubt, some will think that Karl Marx came near to 
doing so. The historical museums of Russia were at one time reorgan- 
ized in accordance with Marxian principles and they certainly had a 
unity and a central thread denied to those whose notions of history are 
less rigid and doctrinaire. Perhaps that is why in most countries the 
national museum of history is beyond realization. Before we can 
arrange a collection of actual objects in accordance with the funda- 
mental lines of our history, we must be agreed what those fundamental 
lines are. A hundred years ago, when the study of history was still 
dominated by Macaulay and the Whig S chool, when people saw English 
history in terms of a successful struggle against the tyranny of a unify- 
ing monarch, and in freedom slowly broadening down from pre- 
cedent to precedent, it would perhaps have seemed less difficult than 
it does today. 

A distinction is often made between, museums and picture galleries 
and even if this is not entirely valid, the problems presented by each are 

159 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

not quite the same. A picture gallery is (or should be) easier to arrange, 
once some kind of historical sequence has been accepted. Pictures can be 
grouped in 'schools' and most people would probably agree that this 
kind of arrangement adds enormously to the pleasure and instruction 
of the visitor. 

The arrangement of objects of applied art (a detestable if convenient 
phrase) is more difficult and good arrangement is itself a work of art, 
a creative act. The c museum exhibit' has to be created. The idea in the 
mind is the important thing; and ideas are not merely impressions of 
specimens and relics, but the values that the visitor and student carry 
away. The objects shown are merely tools in the visualization of ideas. 

Some enthusiasts for this new approach may seem to push this 
principle too far, even to the point of saying that a good museum need 
not necessarily possess a single antique or relic, desirable as these may be. 
This is exaggeration, but it is exaggeration on the right side. Much 
may be done with models and it is surely better, for example, to exhibit 
a careful model of a building now demolished than an actual stone 
from its foundations. The important thing is to dramatize, to seize the 
imagination, and if some of the devices adopted to this end smack 
more of the window of a departmental store, or a waxwork show, than 
of the learned institution, museum curators should consider without 
prejudice whether museums as a body would not be the better for a 
little of the showmanship of the window-dresser. 

Certainly museums in Great Britain have made considerable advances 
in this direction during the past thirty years, and if we may take the 
Victoria and Albert Museum as an example of what can be done by 
enlightened management and imaginative display, we shall find a 
marked change for (as most people would think) the better. For pur- 
poses of administration and scholarship the museum is divided into 
various departments of specialists: the Department of Metalwork, the 
Department of Textiles, the Department of Ceramics and so on. But 
there is no need to arrange the exhibits in accordance with this system, 
as was formerly the case. 

The new method is to divide the contents of the museum into 'Pri- 
mary Collections' and 'Study Collections'. The former are grouped 
chronologically, so far as possible, and they are shown, when this is 
feasible, against an appropriate background. The ideal background is, 
of course, the 'period room', and the Victoria and Albert Museum is 

160 



HOUSING AND SHOWING OUR TREASURES 

fortunate in having a whole series of these from the time of the early 
Tudors. It is possible to 'walk through* more than three centuries of 
English interior decoration, panelling, furniture, metalwork, textiles 
and ceramics seen throughout in their proper surroundings. 

But however ingenious a curator may be in arranging objects in such 
a manner, he will find that he has a great many over. Some of these will 
have to be shown in cases and some will be relegated to the 'study 
collections' which may or may not be open to the general public. The 
important thing is that the cases for public display should not be too 
crowded, that the objects shown should tell some coherent story and 
that they should be properly labelled. 

Labels are extremely important and their proper preparation raises 
problems which can be solved only by a full appreciation of the com- 
bined claims of learning and publicity: using learning' for conveying 
information, and 'publicity* in the sense of attracting attention. Much 
can be done by the use of different sizes of type: the essential descrip- 
tion of an object should be visible at a glance, while further descriptive 
matter may be added in smaller type. Yet the label must not be so 
prominent as to distract attention from the object itself. Who has not 
watched visitors to a picture gallery moving, bent double, from one 
label to the other, and never looking at the pictures at all? 

Some of these problems do not arise in quite so acute a form in the 
smaller, local museum, but most of these have benefited by the example 
of the great national institutions. There was a time when the very word 
museum stank of dust and neglect, but this is no longer true. And with- 
in recent years a whole new category of museums has been added 
to those formerly available. These are the 'houses open to the public'. 
The best of them are what might almost be called natural' museums. 
Their main structure and their furnishings belong in general to one 
particular period, and so one of the major problems of display is auto- 
matically solved. A house like Holkham, for example, is filled with 
furniture designed by the man who built the house. But whether the 
visitor goes to see private houses or public galleries, it is safe to say that 
he will find, all over the country, admirable examples of what has been 
learnt in the last generation in the art of showing our treasures. 



161 



WOMEN 



The Lady Vanishes, but What's 
Become of her Daughters ? 



It would be perfectly possible, though dispiriting, to argue that in 
England the price women have paid for even partial emancipation 
the process is far from complete has been the powerful control 
they once exercised over the imagination of poets, novelists, lyric- 
writers, painters, sculptors, playwrights and the men who put a lot 
of time and trouble into satirical woodcarving in the choir-stalls. So 
long as the majority of women accepted a purely domestic function 
in life, the artists paid them heavily by permitting them to dominate 
nineteenth-century fiction, loom ominously and obsessively through 
Jacobean theatre, hold evenly matched cards with God in metaphysical 
poetry, and in the whole of Elizabethan literature give way to no one 
but the Queen herself (who was, though cynics now question it, a 
woman too). Indeed, you have only to think of sixteenth-century 
English writing, woman-obsessed to a 'point where it is not easy to 
tell where literary convention ends and individual attitudes begin, to 
realize to what an extent woman a fairly steady theme since Chaucer 
has lately turned into the Vanishing Lady. 

The briefest list of some of the masterpieces that have been inescap- 
ably titled by a woman's name reminds one sadly that all the authors 
are either dead or foreign, often both: Electra, Phedre, The Duchess of 
Malfi, Tess of the D'Urbevilles, Hedda Gabler, Madame Bovary, Anna 
Karenina, Emma, Jane Eyre. The liveliest post-war trend in English 
fiction has probably been the investigation of values in a provincial 
setting a theme with as much social as literary interest and in this 

162 



THE LADY VANISHES, BUT WHAT'S BECOME OP HER DAUGHTERS? 

entire seam of fiction the anti-hero has all the best tunes and the 
women flit uneasily in and out, often facelessly and forgettably, carry- 
ing cups of cocoa and reproaches and functioning as angled mirrors, or 
status symbols, or ladders-to-success, for the hero. (Mr, Kingsley Amis 
and Mr. Keith Waterhouse, it must be said at once, have the nerve and 
skill to look their women squarely in the eye. It is in the paler, greyer 
'regional' novels that the female characters make one think of the girl 
who has been running very fast through all the Crazy Gang shows for 
a good many years now without giving anyone time to take a closer 
look at her face.) 

C. P. Snow and Mr. Anthony Powell are both engaged in massive 
reconstructions of society-patterns, which necessarily include women, 
since even in England society is considered to be incomplete without 
them. But in both these novel-sequences it is impossible not to notice 
that it is the men who matter. Mr. Henry Green, who seemed con- 
cerned with women and liked having them around in his books, has 
not written a novel since Doting. There have been some notable women 
in the work of Mr. Graham Greene, but even they are frequently 
required to play dual roles, as themselves and as signposts along 
the hero's road to redemption. Miss Compton-Burnett has provided 
a line of poison-tongued, monstrously articulate Clytemnestra-figures 
all her own, but she is nothing if not a law to herself and her women 
are so ominously alike that one must conclude it is the malevolent 
pattern of English home life which is her main concern, not the detailed 
distinguishing of one female personality from another. 

The enormous exception in fiction is, of course, Mr. Durrell, who 
has the natural advantages of being an Irishman and living abroad. 
Justine, Melissa, Clea, Leila, and Liza Pursewarden rampage all over the 
four volumes of the Alexandria quartet, larger than life if you like, but 
at least Mr. Durrell is furiously committed to them and preoccupied 
with them, even to the extent of using their names for two tides. They 
are enormously, complicatedly alive, often appallingly so. To read 
Mr. Durrell is to be persuaded without any doubt that women do in 
fact exist; though it must be noted, to keep the argument honest, that 
he is writing about Alexandria not England, and that there is an 
uneasy underground movement in progress to establish him, as a 
distinctly foreign writer, possibly by now French. 

The present mainstream of English theatre is more concerned with 

163 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

patterns of society (so was Ibsen, but he had time for fiend-women too) 
and the deadend of non-communication than with the business of ex- 
plaining something about women. (In 1960 the north and south 
poles of contemporary local theatre were represented by Mr. Pinter's 
The Caretaker and Mr. Rattigan's Ross, and the only thing they had in 
common was the total absence of women from both.) Mr. Fry used 
to write sizable roles for actresses, but even he has now turned to the 
universal hero, Thomas Becket. It is interesting to remember that of 
our present not unremarkable collection of actresses few would be in 
regular employment were it not for the works of Shakespeare, Ten- 
nessee Williams, Ibsen, or Anouilh (dead or foreign, as one might 
expect). Dame Peggy Ashcroft went from Ibsen to Stratford this 
summer, Dame Edith Evans appeared on television in a splendid but 
hardly new classic by Mr. Noel Coward, Miss Pamela Brown and 
Miss Irene Worth are more often than not in America, Miss Tutin is at 
Stratford, and Miss Leighton came up with the only recent English 
play with a thumping part for an actress. Mr. John Mortimer's The 
Wrong Side of the Park. The only actress to have found a comfortable 
home in the new kind of theatre is Miss Joan Plowright, and so far it 
is hard to see that even she has been provided with anything to do on 
the scale of Hedda, or of just one of the sisters lavished three at a time 
on one play by Chekhov in a manner that would now be considered 
spendthrift. 

Women have long since stopped occurring to poets in the manner in 
which they preoccupied Browning, not to mention more distant 
writers such as Donne, Marvell, Byron, Herrick and Sidney. Two 
points are worth noting: first, one of the most impressive new young 
English poets is Mr. Ted Hughes, who writes mostly about animals 
and birds, and, second, Mr. Laurie Lee recently stamped a delicate 
and marvellous image of his mother into the minds of a large number 
of readers, but did so in prose. (The most memorable recent poems 
to have been addressed directly to a female person are the remarkable 
Mr. Snodgrass's poems to his daughter, but then they come from 
America.) 

Abstraction finally did to death any idea of women recorded in 
paint simply as a cheerful part of the pleasure^principle, and except for 
Mr. Bratby, whose tone of voice sometimes seems faintly equivocal, 
painters show no urge for making pleasurable documents ojf their wives. 

164 



THE LADY VANISHES, BUT WHAT'S BECOME OF HER DAUGHTERS? 

The only recorded female portrait by Mr. Sutherland is of Miss Helena 
Rubinstein, and though Mr. Lucian Freud has made some sharp and 
coldly eloquent female portraits, it is hard to remember more than one 
(a lyrical portrait of his second wife) that speaks with tenderness and 
warmth. 

When Mr. Reg Butler began to sculpt girls struggling out of their 
slips there was a great shout of amazement and enthusiasm from a 
public on a starvation diet of birdmen, armed warriors and abstract 
sculpture put together from fierce pieces of scrap metal very fine in 
their way, but nothing to do with women, who have in their way been 
a popular theme for sculptors until now. One of the most fantastically 
successful one-man exhibitions in recent years has been Mr. Nolan's 
last show, which consisted almost wholly of a thoroughly recognizable 
woman Leda involved in the myth that produced Helen. (But then 
Mr, Nolan is Australian.) 

Emma Hamilton, who worked out some good Attitudes but was not 
necessarily a first-class actress, was painted so often she must at times 
have been involved in perpetual sittings. Dame Margot Fonteyn, who 
must surely be one of the world's most beautiful and remarkable 
women, has been painted, so far as the public record shows, only once 
full-scale, by Signor AnnigonL 

What is particularly interesting in the present situation is that never 
before have women been such an overt and respected at least finan- 
cially respected power in the community. As they disappeared from 
the arts, so they took over popular folk-art, in the form of journalism, 
women's magazines, and the aidless controversy expressed in print 
and spoken discussions which can be roughly called Should Women 
(have careers, pursue careers after marriage, hold opinions, join the 
Cabinet, make their own jam, have more than four children, become 
call-girls, diet, wear bikinis, and almost anything eke you like to think 
of). 

Most popular fiction., whether in women's magazines or in books of 
the romantic Regency-romp kind, is about women and for women, 
and by now they daim a considerable quantity of newspaper space with 
Women's Section printed boldly at the top so that no one can niiss the 
point. Nevertheless, there are remarkably few roles of any possible 
interest for actresses in British films (a good one came up in Room at the 
Top and was instantly and magnificently secured by Mile. Simone 

165 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

Signoret). It is also not without interest to remember that where 
America has Miss Monroe and France Mile. Bardot, England now 
that time has surprised Miss Lockwood and Miss Dors has gone into 
the memoir business has only Miss Julie Andrews, who is nice and 
as pretty as a picture but is something altogether different (and ulti- 
mately owes her English fame, through some mysterious irony, to 
Bernard Shaw, who wrote big roles for British women). 

It would perhaps be impertinent and over-ambitious to wish we had 
an indigenous Colette to people current English fiction with one or 
two full-scale, articulate, feeling, motivated, fully understood and 
compassionately created women. M. Anouilh provides ample material 
for France, and even Mile. Sagan, though she has never again done as 
well as Bonjour Tristesse, can still sketch an immediately recognizable, 
tenaciously French type of woman who does very well at a brief 
passing glance. And curiously though perhaps this is still too early to 
congratulate ourselves on our stern, imperishable Puritan conscience 
the new little family of Zazie and Lolita appears to be passing English 
novelists by. 

Women in England obsess the imagination of sociologists, adver- 
tising executives, journalists and editors, photographers, bank man- 
agers, dressmakers and cosmetic manufacturers, but not to anything 
like the same extent those occupied with the arts. Our best painters 
may well look at women closely, but do not apparently like the news 
to get about. Mr. Henry Moore sculpts them but in a deeply symbolic 
and abstracted way. Epstein used to make portrait-busts of them and 
Mr. John used to paint them all the time, tut that is talking about 
past history. (Thousands who never heard Suggia must know her from 
the big John portrait. There's a sad lesson to be drawn from the fact 
that record-sleeves now perform the same function, but not quite.) 
Fiction is heavily involved with the anti-hero, and our finest con- 
temporary opera is Peter Grimes. 

It is perfectly possible, though one hopes it may be avoided, that the 
archetypal female figure of England in recent years may be taken to be 
Mrs. Jimmy Porter, a non-speaking role for long stretches of at least 
Act I, patiently ironing and weeping and representing something more 
or less halfway between a status symbol and a class symbol with just 
more than a dash of sex-warfare love-hate to reduce her even farther 
into an abstract figure. Some months ago Mr. Cliff Richards was 

166 



THE LADY VANISHES, BUT WHAT*S BECOME OF HER DAUGHTERS? 

singing a not particularly joyful but popular song about a livin* doll 
Though no generalization can be more than partly true, it is doubtful 
whether there is in England today any such person, if you are going to 
take the artist's word for it. 



167 



PHILOSOPHY 



The Post-Linguistic Thaw 



A Australian philosopher, returning in 1960 to the centre of 
English philosophy after an absence of more than a decade, 
remarked on, and regretted, the change he found. He had 
left a revolutionary situation in which every new move was delight- 
fully subversive and liberating. He returned to find that, though the 
subject appeared still to be confidently and energetically cultivated, the 
revolutionary ferment had quite subsided. Where there had been, it 
seemed to him, a general and triumphant movement in one direction, 
there were now a number of individuals and groups pursuing diver- 
gent interests and ends, often in a relatively traditional manner. 

His picture was a little over-simplified; but not grossly so. There did 
develop, in the late 19405 and the early 1950$, a new method, a new 
idea, in English philosophy which captured the imaginations of many 
of those who entered the field for the first time or returned to it after 
six years of an enforced intellectual sterility. In a curious way it com- 
bined, this new idea, magnitude of claim with modesty of pretension. 
The results it promised were to be achieved not by the inspiration of 
genius but by the careful and co-operative labours of men of sense. 

Yet the results themselves were to be great. Foreseeably near were 
the total dissolution of ancient problems and the final extinction both 
of the avowedly metaphysical doctrines whose end had too often been 
announced before and of that traditional empiricism which had 
opposed to them the name of natural science and the reality of a weak 
metaphysics of its own. This clearing of ancient rubbish was to be 
acompanied by the delivery of the authentic treasure: the revelation, 
that is, of a whole world of infinite subtlety and diversity with its own 

168 



THE POST-LINGUISTIC THAW 

fine and complex structure, a world which had always lain about us to 
be observed as soon as we ceased straining our eyes towards imaginary 
grandeurs and simplicities. 

The means of both dissolution and revelation was a refined, thorough 
and, above all, a realistic awareness of the meanings of words. For the 
purposes of ordinary and of specialized discourse reasonably instructed 
adults had all mastered, had all had to master, a set of instruments of 
great subtlety, flexibility and power. The thorough and unprejudiced 
study of the use which we actually made of these linguistic instruments 
in the course of our business with one another and the world would at 
last make it possible for us to understand the detailed structure of our 
actual conception of the world, and thereby free us from the philo- 
sophical fantasies or perplexities engendered by a reflection which was 
incomplete, uncontrolled or obsessive. 

Looked at in this cool and even light, much of the philosophy of the 
immediate and remoter past did indeed seem to consist of huge, bizarre 
mistakes, fantastic muddles, over-simplifications of an unbelievable 
grossness and crudity. Traditional problems shrivelled, traditional 
theories crumbled and 'linguistic' philosophers, treading a sure path, 
could pick their way if they were careful and thorough through 
swamps of controversy in which their perhaps more powerful but 
certainly less enlightened predecessors had become hopelessly and 
ridiculously bogged. A traditional Theory of Truth could scarcely 
survive a careful examination of the actual employment of the word 
'true' ; a traditionally conceived Problem of Knowledge looked like 
sheer misunderstanding by the side of a sufficiently thorough study of 
the use of the verb 'to know'. Error and misunderstanding could be 
regarded as finally disposed of when they were not only shown to be 
such but their very sources were, by the same operation, fully and 
clearly exposed. 

The devastations wrought by the method were such as to inspire a 
kind of awe as well as an, intense satisfaction. They also inspired a kind 
of hope which was not, at the time, absurd. It was possible to speculate 
about how long it would take to 'finish off' traditional philosophy ; and 
a lecturer could conclude his lectures on the moral philosophy of the 
sophisticated Hume by remarking: 'Had Hume shown the same 
acumen in logic (ie. epistemology) as he showed in morals . . . 
philosophy . . . would have been over . . . sooner.* 

169 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

It is by no means as easy as is sometimes supposed to trace the sources 
of this captivating and, up to a point, brilliantly successful move- 
ment. Undeniably it had something in common with, and owed some- 
thing to, Logical Positivism. There was a community of attitude to 
many traditional problems and solutions. But the Logical Positivists 
moved to the assault rather lightly equipped with an over-simple 
theory of meaning, and operated, at least in England, from the flimsy 
base of an eighteenth-century empiricist ontology. No very elaborate 
exercises in the study of language actually at work were necessary to 
demonstrate the inadequacy of the first and the absurdity of the 
second. 

And here the great figure of Wittgenstein comes to mind; for it was 
precisely in the name of the need to 'bring words back to their use in 
the language which is their original home' that he conducted his own 
exhausting battles against the belief in the adequacy of the Humean 
apparatus of impressions and ideas. Yet the direct influence of Wittgen- 
stein on the development of linguistic philosophy after the war appears 
to have been small. His writings were known to few; and those not at 
that time the most active. Austin, who most clearly stated and most 
effectively vindicated the claims of the linguistic idea, owed no 
traceable debt to Wittgenstein; and the idles mattresses which Pro- 
fessor Ryle handled with such brilliance of imagery and force of 
phrase seemed to derive, if from anywhere, then very distantly from 
Aristotle, 

Nor was the atmosphere in which Professors Ryle and Austin 
conducted their researches the atmosphere of Wittgensteinian anguish 
('Philosophy is hell'). Philosophy, rather, was complicated and fasci- 
nating; it was even allowed to be amusing. The publication of the 
Philosophical Investigations in 1953 revealed Wittgenstein clearly and 
generally as a philosopher of genius, many of whose thoughts, spoken 
in Cambridge, had somehow become assimilated to the very different 
style of Oxford; but it was impossible to say quite how. For though 
many had learnt much from the wartime and pre-war work of Pro- 
fessor Wisdom, who had constantly acknowledged his debt to Witt- 
genstein, it was now clear also how much Professor Wisdom's note 
was his own. 

Whatever the sources of linguistic philosophy, its claims and methods 
could reasonably be expected to excite suspicion and hostility both from 

170 



THE POST-LINGUISTIC THAW 

outside the world of academic philosophy and from within it. The 
reaction was a little belated. Many of the serious-minded were still 
reproaching academic philosophers, vaguely thought of as logical 
positivists, for excessive preoccupation with esoteric technicalities of 
logic at a time when it was the non-esoteric non-technicalities of 
ordinary speech which were actually absorbing their attention; and by 
the time the target was more accurately located, the scene was already 
changing in the way noted by the returning Australian. 

Ultimately the full tide of denunciation rolled in. The linguistic 
philosophers were charged with dullness, triviality, pedantry, 
abdication, evasion, frivolity, complacency, conservatism, and ob- 
scurity. It remained an odd fact, discouraging to its critics, that a move- 
ment with these marked deficiencies was capable of exerting such an 
enormous attractive power wherever English was the language of 
philosophy, particularly in Australia and the United States of America. 
The influx from abroad of young students and established teachers of 
philosophy into Oxford, the home of dullness, continued at an un- 
precedented rate throughout the post-war period; and Oxford philo- 
sophers were invited in increasing numbers to export their product in 
person to the United States. 

Neither the hostility nor the enthusiasm which the movement 
excited was in the least surprising. The atmosphere of particular and 
informal clarities in which the movement lived caused genuine baffle- 
ment and uneasiness in many whose conception of philosophy was 
more elevated than definite. What was clear seemed obscure to those 
whose unconscious demand was for obscurity, and the study of the 
familiar seemed contemptuously esoteric in a region where everything 
was expected to be strange. But to the genuine student of the subject, 
accustomed but not reconciled to pseudo-precise terminology and 
stale controversy, the new movement offered an unparalleled freshness 
of approach, and a real hope of replacing forever collapsing theories 
with actually ascertainable truths. This was sufficient reason for its 
appeal. 

The self-conscious employment of the linguistic method produced 
brilliant and often amusing results. It destroyed much and revealed 
much. It should continue to play a great part in philosophy, acting as an 
indispensable control on extravagance, absurdity and over-simplifica- 
tion; revealing more and more of the fascinating sub-structure of our 

171 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

thinking. But it no longer appears that it can, by itself, satisfy all the 
demands of philosophical inquiry. Above all, it cannot, by itself, satisfy 
the persistent philosophical craving for generality, for the discovery of 
unifying pattern or structure in our conception of the world. 

That craving has often enough been nourished with illusion; and 
the generalizing philosopher of today is less likely than his predecessors 
to claim final or exclusive correctness for the pattern of connexions he 
presents. Yet there seerns no reason why it should not be possible from, 
time to time to sketch out, in the style of the day, a fundamental order 
of conceptual connexions discernible in human thinking, or to illuminate 
different particular areas of thought in a more systematic way than the 
linguistic method was able to promise by itself. In any case, the desire 
for generality is ineHminable from philosophy. Temporarily overlaid 
in some minds by the successes of the linguistic method, the desire 
inevitably re-asserted itself. One result, among others, was a more 
sympathetic understanding of the history of the subject. What had 
appeared in that first dazzling light simply as an array of crude mis- 
takes could sometimes, after all, be sympathetically viewed as an 
attempt, not wholly unsuccessful, to establish a general structure such 
as the refinements of the new method were powerless to reveal by 
themselves. 

Even in the heyday of the linguistic movement it is doubtful 
whether it numbered among its adherents or semi-adherents more than 
a substantial minority of British philosophers. It was associated 
primarily with one pkce Oxford and there it centred on one man 
Austin, its most explicit advocate and most acute and whole-hearted 
practitioner. Its heyday was short. When a revolutionary movement 
begins to write its own history, something at least of its revolutionary 
impetus has been lost; and in the appearance of The Revolution in 
Philosophy (1956) and of Mr. G. J. Warnock's English Philosophy since 
igoo (1958) there were signs that eyes were were being lifted from 
the immediate task, indications of pause and change. 

Indeed, the pull of generality was felt by Austin himself, who, before 
he died, was beginning to work out a general classificatory theory of 
acts of linguistic communication. It is still too early to say what 
definite directions change will take. In spite of the work of Professor 
Ayer, who never attached value to the linguistic idea, and who, in his 
most recent book, The Problem oj 'Knowledge (19 56), continued to uphold 

172 



THE POST-LINGUISTIC THAW 

a traditional empiricism with unfailing elegance and skill, it seems 
unlikely that he or others will work much longer in that vein. 

There are portents, however, of a very different kind. One is the 
appearance of a persuasive study entitled Hegel: A Re-examination 

(1958) by Professor J. N. Findlay. Professor Stuart Hampshire's 
Thought and Action (1959), with its linking of epistemology, philo- 
sophy of mind and moral philosophy, is highly indicative of a trend 
from piecemeal studies towards bolder syntheses; it shows how the 
results of recent discussions can be utilized in a construction with both 
Hegelian and Spinozistic affinities. Mr. P. F. Strawson's Individuals 

(1959) suggests a scaled-down Kantianism, pared of idealism on the 
one hand and a particular conception of physical science on the other. 
The philosophy of logic and language takes on a tauter line and a more 
formal tone in the work of logicians who derive their inspiration 
mainly from Frege. Finally, some of the most successful work of the 
period has been in the philosophy of mind; and it seems reasonable to 
suppose that further studies will follow upon Professor Kyle's Concept 
of Mind (1949), Wittgenstein's Investigations (1953) and Miss Anscombe's 
Intention (1957), and that, in them, Ryle's explicit and Wittgenstein's 
implicit suggestions of systematization will be refined and reassessed. 

The Australian philospher had reason enough to claim that he found 
a changed situation. When knowledge of this fact of change finally 
filters through to those who habitually comment on the state of philo- 
sophy without any significant first-hand acquaintance with it, reactions 
of complacency may be expected. In the anticipated face of these it is 
worth re-affirming that the gains and advances made in the dozen 
years which followed the war were probably as great as any which have 
been made in an equivalent period in the history of the subject. 

A new level of refinement and accuracy in conceptual awareness 
has been reached, and an addition to philosophical method has been 
established which will, or should, be permanent. It is not only within 
the sphere of concerns peculiar to the philosopher that the results of 
these advances show themselves. Hie province of jurisprudence offers 
an almost ideal ground for the application of a critical technique of 
which the essence is an accurate surveying of the actual operation of 
concepts. Professor Hart and Mr. Honore have achieved one striking 
success in this field with the publication of Causation in the Law (i959) I 
and in a brilliant series of lectures to be published under the title of 

173 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

The Concept of Law Professor Hart illuminates with the same clarity 
and accuracy the most general issues of jurisprudence. 

There is no reason why philosophical prose should be more ugly 
and turgid than other prose; and the best philosophical writing in 
England has always had a place among the best writing in England. 
This tradition is maintained, in a variety of individual modes: in 
Professor Ayer's Augustan elegance; in Austin's wit and sharp lucidity; 
in Professor Wisdom's strange, persuasive cadence; in the graceful 
and ironic urbanity of Mr. Warnock; above all, perhaps, in Professor 
Ryle's masterly handling of a vivid and wide-ranging vocabulary and 
a taut and balanced sentence structure. These and others who have 
thought clearly and written well include some who belonged, some 
who half-belonged, and some who did not belong at all, to the lin- 
guistic movement. There are enough of the first to make it clear that 
one kind of sensitivity to the use of words need not exclude another. 



174 



THE UNIVERSITIES 



Dons and the Point of No Expansion 



No other institution in the world looks more like the embodi- 
ment of an idea than the ancient English university. 
There they sit every evening, the members of the college : 
commensales eating together, the young men on their benches on the 
stone floor of the hall, the seniors six inches higher on their wooden 
platform, and all around them the portraits of their predecessors. There 
they sit every week, tutor and pupil alone together, still in their dis- 
tinctive dress, talking, persuading each other, convincing themselves 
that the pursuit of knowledge is a conversation, a conversation between 
the followers of every art and of all the sciences, a conversation between 
the generations. Tie flower of English youth is gathered up with 
in-finite care and gently placed upon the dais, to live for a while with 
the ablest of the English teachers, and then to go away and take 
responsibility for the life of their country. Of each successive bevy of 
youthful faces, one or two will remain behind, to pursue scholarship 
themselves. 

A Platonic idea it seems to be, not so far from the common meals 
and communal life prescribed in the Laws for the wardens and over- 
seers of the country, or from More's Utopia, Bacon's New Atlantis. 
An idea, moreover, which has added to Utopia the subtlety and com- 
plication of life itself. 

For we find at Oxford not one but a score of such communities 
each of them independent and effectively endowed, each of them as 
old as the United States and many of them older, yet all of them 
contained within a larger society, the university itself, which is a com- 
munity of quite a different sort. The insitution then, is infinitely 

175 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

extensible, yet always intimate in scale. It can make a place for 
laboratories and libraries, research institutes, women's colleges and 
scholarly foundations of every sort, and yet remain a company of 
masters and pupils, living a communal life. 

It is a communal life more intricate even than its institutional frame- 
work. These permanent organizations exist within a galaxy of societies 
of a less substantial sort, founded by the students themselves for every 
intellectual, aesthetic, political and religious purpose. 

The dramatic and athletic coterie, the Union debating society, 
the club for members of parties, of nationalities or of churches, these 
are typical of students wherever they are found, but the more academic 
societies come closer to the English idea of a university, At Cambridge, 
for example, there is a university history club and a history club in at 
least ten of the colleges a dozen societies where historian and learners 
meet, outside the university lecture hall, apart from the college super- 
vision hour. The don may find himself more exercised by these tiny 
bands of serious and able men than by all the rest of his duties. For he 
meets them as an invited guest, in their society, in the rooms of one of 
their members, called upon to give an account of himself, to add his 
contribution to their discussion. 

To have brought into being such an ideal type is indeed a triumph of 
the British imagination, its genius for the creation of institutions. Born, 
let us say, in Tudor times, like the modern House of Commons, it 
descended likewise from a long medieval ancestry. Brought to maturity 
under the Stuarts by the same influences which moulded that other 
uniquely British intellectual institution, the Royal Society, the English 
university under Queen Victoria entered into its empire over the 
intellectual imagination of the world. The buildings themselves, 
superbly suited to their intellectual and educative purpose, speak clearly 
of the Tudor and Jacobean bishops and gentlemen who fashioned them, 
the strenuous Victorians who adapted the model to early industrial 
society. 

Up to our own day the ancient English university has been stupend- 
ously successful, and it is easy to see why the institution itself and its 
architectural form have been imitated to infinity. And yet in 1960 the 
urgent question to ask about British universities and scholarship is 
simply this. Is it true that Oxford and Cambridge are of any use at all in 
deciding the model for the modern university? Is not our present 

176 



DONS AND THE POINT OF NO EXPANSION 

problem that the British imagination, having created this one thing, 
has ceased to be creative at all, has responded to the challenge of twen- 
tieth-century university education with a sigh? 
In 1904 George Bernard Shaw wrote this for the Fabian Society: 

Our ancient and famous universities are too venerable for reform. Any 
attempt to adapt Oxford and Cambridge to modem industrial needs 
would be an act of Vandalism comparable to the turning of Westminster 
Abbey into a railway station. They are the only two institutions of their 
kind in the world, and though it is conceivable that in the future their 
undergraduates and dons may be represented by wax figures, and admis- 
sion regulated by a turnstile, no real change is likely to be tolerated. 

Shaw was wrong if he meant to imply that scientific inspiration had 
already forsaken the cloisters for the industrial establishment, the state 
laboratory. Rutherford and J. J. Thomson face Newton and Bacon 
across the hall of Trinity, the jet engine was developed at Cambridge 
and we are told that a technical revolution in transport by water was 
begun there in the 19505. He went a little too far in his forecast about 
resistance to change, though even after the Royal Commission of the 
19208, even after the wholesale intrusion of state-supported students in 
the 19405, there can be no doubt that Oxford and Cambridge have 
altered less since 1904 than any other English institutions. 

But that is not quite the point. What he did not, perhaps could not, 
foresee at the opening of the twentieth century was that the British 
imagination would be transfixed with its achievement, and look at all 
university development from this one point of view. Even in the year 
1960, it would seem, we are still unwilling to admit that the idea of the 
ancient English university is unsuited to conditions which differ at all 
from the special historical and social circumstances which gave rise to 
it. The truth may be that it is not imitable, not even to any great extent 
adaptable, not after all an idea of a university, but an incidental, 
accidental feature of the developing shape of English society. 

To say this is not necessarily to say that Oxford and Cambridge 
should be radically altered so as to bring them in line with the different 
social conditions which now prevail This might effectively abolish that 
excellence we now have, when there is nothing new of excellence to put 
in its place. We may also be restrained firom this by an influence which 
has nothing to do with the contemporary challenge to educate more 

N 177 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

and more people at our universities, an influence much more easily 
seen from outside than from in. 

The two ancient English universities belong not to England but to 
Britain as a whole, to the English speaking world and to Western 
civilization. The particular genius of the English, we all know, is the 
preservation of the past in compromise with the present, so that the 
first country to be industrialized retains more of the pre-industrial 
world than most others. 

The immense size of the English speaking community and the 
relegation of Britain to a position of intellectual, spiritual or even 
sentimental leadership has created a formidable pressure upon us to 
stay just as we are, where we are. Preserved in amber, an object of 
elegance and immense antiquity, nothing more: this is the feeling 
about himself that an Oxford visitor may have on an American campus. 

In fact, of course, we have gone to great lengths to give intellectual 
and even political superiority to Oxford and Cambridge, so that 
social change does not remove their pre-eminence. The effect of 
promising public support to any candidate who can reach university 
entrance standard is that all of them try to get to the two magical 
places; hence a greater monopoly of talent there than ever before. As 
we extend our scattered seats of higher learning into a university net- 
work and invent a whole new vocabulary to describe it (with words 
like 'Oxbridge', and 'civic' or 'Redbrick' for other universities), we 
are merely elaborating a classic example of a prestige system. 

Even the United States suffers from the tendency for the university 
teacher to establish his self-esteem by exaggerating the reputation of 
his own institution, and to drop everything directly there is a chance 
to join an institution of greater reputation still. But Harvard, Yale and 
the others are conscious of their metropolitan responsibilities ; they have 
graduate schools which are organized for the purpose of training pro- 
fessors for their sisters in the academic world. Here the two great 
universities seem to pride themselves on their provincialism, on their 
complete unwillingness to accept any relationship with other British 
universities. Almost every academic conference of literary, social or 
political faculties is badly attended by Oxford and Cambridge men: 
sometimes one of them will have no representative at all. 

No representative of the best and most famous academic institutions 
in the world, which is how we like to think of them. This is an essay 

IT* 



DONS AND THE POINT OF NO EXPANSION 

on the imagination of our country and its point is that we have been 
unable to imagine a university institution suited to the challenge of the 
twentieth century, a century which does confront us with a dilemma of 
the imagination, the institution-makers' imagination. To insist on it we 
may have sounded unfair to the younger universities and to the 
University Grants Committee. Since its birth in 1919 this has been 
universally praised as an example of British institution-making for 
university purposes. With that recently established tendency to praise 
everything we have simply because it is British, we praise this com- 
mittee because it seems to have solved the problem of allowing our 
universities to accept nearly all their money from the state, and yet to 
preserve their academic independence. We praise it for other things 
too, and perhaps we are right to do so. But it certainly cannot be said 
that successive Grants Committees have thought in terms of any model 
other than the Oxford and Cambridge college. . 

It is they who have helped to plant everywhere the *hall of residence*, 
an expensive and unsatisfactory substitute for the college. In one 
university this over-ekborate students' hostel has tables on the floor 
for forty or fifty girls, and a high table where the warden sits alone. 
This one middle-aged lady serves as a token for the absent community 
of fellows. Perhaps also as a fatal reminder that the hall of residence is 
not really a college, that the university is perhaps not really a university, 
since there are only two of these in England. This may not be the 
ordinary mood of the teachers in British universities, but it too often 
is when they think of themselves as an institution. Certainly it is 
difficult to imagine a professor looking up from his morning paper in 
the common room and saying ingenuously how glad he is that this 
university was set up on an entirely different principal from the ancient 
universities, new, adventurous, satisfactory. 

At Keele, near Stoke~on-Trent, at the newest and the smallest 
university institution in Britain, we hope that sometimes this sense of 
exciting novelty does manifest itself. It may be that this community 
can be looked upon as a new venture of the British Imagination. For 
it does tackle fairly and squarely the education of the whole mind, in 
arts as well as science, in science as well as arts; it does admit to itself 
the teacher's family as well as the teacher; it grants that four years may 
be necessary for all that the modern university has to do for its students. 

But Mr. Kingslcy Amis has recently expressed himself on the 

179 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

disadvantages of the new syllabus at Keele. He it was who helped to 
set in motion that literary swirl we call by the (wrong) name, the angry 
young men, and whose portrait of the provincial university fits this 
argument tightly enough. Nor can it be said that the Keele model is 
likely to shape our new foundations, change our old ones. A cynic 
might claim that it was simply the demonstration in this matter of 
the British twentieth-century tendency: too little and too late. 

We live in a country which began about 500 years ago to associate 
scholarship with social and political superiority. In England the intel- 
ligentsia was enfolded in the ruling class, and this in shorthand was what 
made possible the historical importance, and the historical reputation, 
of our ancient universities, and distinguished them from all the others. 
It was a costly business, and we in the twentieth century are wrong 
to complain that we cannot afford to do things as our Tudor and Stuart 
ancestors did. 

In 1575, in a country with perhaps a tenth of the population and 
perhaps a thousandth of the economic resources, there were probably 
something like 5,000 people at Oxford and Cambridge. Our total 
university population now is stated to be about 100,000; we have only 
succeeded in doubling the proportion of students to the country as a 
whole. Building for building and book for book, the university 
libraries of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries certainly used up very, 
very much more available capital than they do today, when even 
relative expenditure in comparison with America is exceedingly un- 
comfortable to contemplate. These calculations are unreal, and the 
evidence unreliable, but it is difficult to believe that the amount we 
now spend on higher education, laboratories, technical colleges, free 
maintenance and all, is anything but considerably less than it was in 
the world which gave us our ancient universities. 

Since 1900 we have seen the London literary and intellectual world, 
the world of the clubs and the independent author, languish and 
begin to die away. British scholarly writing has now to depend on 
university patronage almost exclusively, and the university is called 
upon to perform many of the other functions that used to be catered 
for in other ways. The challenge of British universities to the British 
imagination is perhaps the most urgent of all. 



180 



PSYCHOLOGY 



Subject Mind Explores Object Mind 



If psychology in Britain can be said to have had a founder, a strong 
claimant to the tide is Sir Francis Galton. Unlike Wundt, the 
doughty 'father of experimental psychology* in Germany, Galton 
never regarded himself as a psychologist and would no doubt have 
indignantly repudiated the suggestion that he founded anything 
whatsoever. Yet it is characteristic of British psychology at all events 
until quite recently that the men who contributed the most owned 
formal allegiance to other disciplines. Ward and Stout were philoso- 
phers, Sherrington and Lord Adrian physiologists, Myers and Mc- 
Dougall physicians. Rivers, who did more perhaps than any to establish 
psychology in Britain, is claimed by both the natural and the social 
sciences. Some of our early psychologists, indeed, had decidedly 
strange antecedents. Lloyd Morgan was trained as a mining engineer 
and Spearman quite literally won his spurs as a cavalry officer. In spite 
of the strident professional note of modern British psychology, it may 
yet prove true that the subject is better served by Gentlemen than by 
Players. 

Francis Galton, who was a cousin of Charles Darwin, was born in 
1822 and won early repute as an African explorer. He then turned to 
meteorology and is reliably said to have originated the theory of anti- 
cyclones. It was only comparatively late in life that Galton directed his 
versatile mind to psychology, bringing to a subject heavily shrouded 
in academic dust a much needed breath of empirical fresh air. Hereditary 
Genius, which appeared in 1869, did much to extend Darwinian 
thinking into the sphere of social problems and to draw attention to the 
important role of heredity in regard to human variability. Indeed this 

181 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

inquiry almost certainly directed Galton's mind to tliose issues which 
were eventually to form him into a stalwart champion of eugenics. For 
psychology, however, his later volume entitled Inquiries into Human 
Faculty (1883) has proved very much more influential. This celebrated 
little book is concerned with topics as diverse as colour blindness, 
composite portraiture, mental imagery and the efficacy of prayer. Yet 
in spite of the range and diversity of its subject-matter, the Inquiries 
did much to stamp British psychology with its characteristic outlook. 
As the American historian E. G. Boring has well remarked, in psycho- 
logy as in so much else both fertile and futile, Galton was first. 

In what does Galton's outlook consist? In the first place, it is a ration- 
alist outlook, or as we should perhaps say today a humanist outlook: 
Man is an animal and the study of man is a branch of biological science. 
Galton's whole outlook rests on a belief in the continuity of evolution 
from animals to man and in the biological origin of even the most 
exalted human faculties. Although biology and religion today seem 
less irreconcilable than in Galton's time, his conviction that the study 
of man should be a branch of natural science has become firmly 
embedded in contemporary thought. 

In the second place, Galton was an empiricist, concerned to establish 
the study of human faculty upon a firm basis of observation. Unlike 
Wundt, who was mainly concerned with psychological experiment as 
a buttress to preconceived theory, Galton fully believed in the primacy 
of observed fact. In place of weaving theories of memory, for example, 
Galton devised methods to ascertain how individual people actually 
remember specific events. (He showed, incidentally, that even Fellows 
of the Royal Society display a singular frailty when required to recol- 
lect their own breakfast tables.) Although the early development of 
psychology in Britain owes more perhaps to Wundt than to Galton, 
there is every reason to believe that the Galtonian tradition will prove 
the more enduring. 

In the third place, modern psychology has learnt from Galton to 
appreciate the importance of individual differences, in mental endow- 
ment. The fact of human variability, he supposed, constrains the 
psychologist to concern himself no less with the nature and distribu- 
tion of individual differences than with the formulation of laws govern- 
ing mind in general. To Galton, therefore, we owe the origins of the 
technique of mental measurement, which in the hands of Charles 

182 



SUBJECT MIND EXPLORES OBJECT MIND 

Spearman, Godfrey Thomson and Sir Cyril Butt, has furnished so 
noteworthy a contribution to contemporary psychological inquiry. 

Galton, then, was the forerunner of much that is best in the British 
psychological tradition. He impressed on his successors their manifest 
duty to study origins and to take a genetic point of view. He had much 
to do with the early growth of statistical method and its application to 
the problems of human variability. Above all, he was the first in 
Britain to extricate psychology from its philosophical antecedents and 
to set it fairly on the road of empirical science. 

Galton was a Cambridge man and it is perhaps not wholly surprising 
that the idea of empirical psychology, linked with the biological 
sciences rather than with philosophy, took root sooner at Cambridge 
than in other British universities. As early as 1877 James Ward, a philo- 
sopher with strong biological leanings, pleaded for the establishment 
in Cambridge of a laboratory devoted to psychological studies. Alas, 
his plea was in vain largely, it is related, on account of the objections 
of a mathematician to whom the whole idea smacked of a distasteful 
materialism. The idea, however, remained firmly in Ward's mind and 
was eventually implemented around the turn of the century. 

Although die accommodation for psychology was officially des- 
cribed as 'dark, damp and ill-ventilated', it none the less provided the 
setting for work of real importance. (It is odd, by the way, how often 
the quality of scientific work has proved to be inversely proportional to 
the splendour of its home.) At all events, it was in this damp cottage 
that William McDougall, who later became widely known through 
his writings on instinct, served his apprenticeship. Here, too, W. H, R. 
Rivers, psychologist, physician and ethnologist, directed the work of a 
gallant litde band of early experimental psychologists. One of his 
pupils was C. S. Myers, who was later to succeed him as director of a 
larger and much more adequately equipped laboratory. To these men 
psychology in Britain owes a high debt. Not only did they ky the 
foundation of psychology as a natural science but their level-headedness 
did much to disarm suspicion of a subject still regarded as but one step 
removed from the occult. 

In more recent times the contribution of Cambridge to the structure 
of modern psychology has won high repute. Sir Frederic Bardctt, who 
became the first Professor of Experimental Psychology in the Univer- 
sity, is widely known for his studies of memory (delightfully in die 

183 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

Galtonian vein) and for the important work on the measurement of 
human skill which he has conceived and directed. 

During the war Sir Frederic Bartlett built up an outstanding team of 
young research workers, eager to apply to wartime problems the con- 
trolled techniques of the psychological laboratory. Thanks largely to 
the brilliance of K. J. W. Craik, a young Scots graduate of exceptional 
talent, this endeavour was crowned with remarkable success. Although 
Craik himself failed to survive the war, the ideas opened up by his 
work continue to influence psychological inquiry in Cambridge and 
farther afield. 

Psychology at Oxford got off to a slower start. William McDougall, 
it is true, established a small laboratory during his tenure of the Wilde 
Readership in Mental Philosophy in spite of the fact that experimental 
psychology was specifically precluded under the terms of his Reader- 
ship. Among Oxford men of the period who trained with McDougall 
and who subsequently won distinction elsewhere were J. C. Flugel, 
who is remembered as a scholarly writer on psychoanalysis and kindred 
topics, and Sir Cyril Burt, who later became Professor of Psychology 
in the University of London. Mention, too, should be made of Pro- 
fessor George Humphrey, who was to return to Oxford many years 
later as the first Professor of Psychology in the University. Professor 
Humphrey's book on The Nature of Learning, published in 193 3, remains 
one of the major contributions of a British-born psychologist to the 
development of contemporary behaviour theory. It was not, however, 
until 1947 that psychology became accepted in Oxford as deserving 
of its own Honours School. Although the link with philosophy remains 
closer than at Cambridge, Oxford psychology shows every sign of 
developing as a vigorous scientific discipline. 

Many other universities have played their part in the growth of 
British psychology. In Bristol C. Lloyd Morgan carried the Darwinian 
tradition farther and together with Thorndike in America created 
the experimental study of animal behaviour. At Glasgow H. J. 
Watt, trained at Wiirzburg, carried out important studies of the 
human senses. At Manchester the lively fancy of Professor T. H. Pear 
has illumined many odd and fascinating psychological by-ways. In 
Edinburgh James Drever built up a solid laboratory in the dour 
Scottish tradition. Most important of all, Charles Spearman, Grote 
Professor of Mind and Logic at University College, London, devoted 

184 



SUBJECT MIND EXPLORES OBJECT MIND 

Hs not inconsiderable mathematical talents over many years to the 
problems of mental measurement. What has come to be called the 
factorial analysis of human ability which we owe principally to 
Spearman has done much to place the vexed issue of intelligence 
testing on a reputable scientific foundation. 

Although nourished by the universities, British psychologists have 
seldom remained wholly aloof from the wider world of affairs and the 
challenge of contemporary social issues. As early as 1921 C. S. Myers 
turned his back on Cambridge to found the National Institute of 
Industrial Psychology, a pioneer institution of its kind. Much of the 
early work on time and motion study, accident research and vocational 
selection was carried out under its auspices. More recently the develop- 
ment of applied experimental psychology in Britain has owed much 
to the Medical Research Council and the Department of Scientific and 
Industrial Research, both of which bodies have fostered important 
studies on industrial fatigue, the design of equipment and training 
methods. Although some have been alarmed at die extent to which 
research in psychology has become subordinated to immediate 
practical ends, the current trend at least imposes upon psychologists 
some awareness of their social responsibility. In Britain, at least, 
psychology stands in little danger of academic petrifaction. 

Rivers, Myers and McDougall were physicians as well as psycholo- 
gists and all made contributions of lasting value to the growth of psy- 
chological medicine, Rivers, in particular, was one of the first English- 
men to see clearly the importance of Freud, and both he and Myers 
drew inspiration from psychoanalysis in their work on 'shell shock* 
and allied conditions in the Fkst World War. At this time, it will be 
borne in mind, 'shell shock* was generally thought to have a physical 
basis and it was most difficult to gain acceptance for the view that 
emotional conflict plays a vital part in its origin. In consequence Rivers 
and his colleagues were accorded scant sympathy by the medical 
orthodoxy of their time. The whole frastrating storywas told many 
years later by Myers in a frank little book on Shell Shock in France 
1914-18. 

Fortunately the climate of psychological medicine in Britain under- 
went a decided change between the wars and the outbreak of the 
Second World War found doctors much better prepared for dealing 
with psychiatric casualties. Further, a real effort was made to apply 

185 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

modern psychological knowledge in the selection of personnel and in 
relation to problems of training and morale. In the Army, especially, a 
devoted team of psychiatrists and psychologists under the direction of 
Brigadier J. R. Rees did much to improve the selection of officers and 
to achieve the best possible allocation of our limited manpower. 

Since the war psychologists have been active on an increasing scale in 
the clinical field and have developed methods of some value in con- 
nexion with psychiatric diagnosis and the training of the mentally 
subnormal. The work of Professor H. J. Eysenck at the Maudsley 
Hospital in London is widely held to give promise of a more genuinely 
objective approach to the problem of personality and its disorders. 

What, then, is the British contribution to psychology? No British 
psychologist has made a major discovery but with the possible 
exception of Freud this is true of psychologists everywhere. 
British psychology has, perhaps, been distinguished less by its content 
than by its point of view. Less systematic than German psychology, it 
has none the less laid the foundations of an outlook decisively linked 
to biological issues. This outlook, moreover, is less fact-bound than 
American psychology, yet at the same time less under the domination 
of systematic theory. Further, in spite of becoming increasingly pro- 
fessional, psychology in Britain still offers scope to the interested 
amateur. Indeed, as has already been suggested, it is to the Gentlemen 
rather than the Players that British psychology owes its distinctive con- 
tribution. 

Darwin and Galton, Sherrington and Lloyd Morgan, Rivers and 
Myers these are the names that must receive pride of place in any 
formal history of British psychology. But what of the future? Scientists 
today operate on a front very much narrower than was the case sixty 
years ago and one may indeed wonder whether pyschology still stands 
to gain so directly from the findings of allied disciplines. On the other 
hand, we are witnessing today a new interpenetration of the biol- 
gical sciences. In the study of animal behaviour, for example, psychol- 
ogists and zoologists are increasingly concerned to hammer out a 
unified approach to their common problems. In the study of the ner- 
vous system, physiologists are making common cause with experi- 
mental psychologists in the gradual elucidation of the function of the 
brain. It is noteworthy that even engineers have been stimulated to 
seek parallels between the principles embodied in man-made machines 

186 



SUBJECT MIND EXPLORES OBJECT MIND 

and the operation of living organisms. Some psychologists, in fact, 
have rallied enthusiastically to Norbert Wiener's timely alliance of 
science and technology which has come to be known as cybernetics. It 
is perhaps in these new affiliations, in this new coalescence of disciplines, 
that the future of British psychology is taking shape. 



SCIENCE 



The Stranger at the Feast 



Aientist invited to a symposium of men of letters on British 
Imagination enters with a friendly diffidence; his brow is 
clouded with doubt and dissent. There is nothing new in 
feeling that he is an outsider. Our world is full of people eager to point 
out that art is one thing, science another, that the artist and the scientist 
are disparate creatures. This may be only another round of the familiar 
knockabout. If so, let the outsider begin by explaining his outsiderness. 

Consider then sex, which can hardly fail to arise on the artistic side 
of this discussion. The sexual relations of men and women occur in 
every part of the world. It is probable that more words have been 
written about them than about any other subject; and certain that in 
one way or another it colours the whole range of the arts. But sexual 
love is essentially different in different parts of the world. Thus a 
British artist in any medium who chooses this passion as his material 
will express himself differently from a Frenchman because he has 
observed a particular pattern of love-making and is himself a member of 
the society that practises it. And if there is a quality in his work that 
can be isolated as imagination, it should be different from that of the 
Frenchman. Arguing from sex to the whole body of the artist's 
material, it is clearly sensible to analyse British imagination, as distinct 
from any other national variety. 

But the scientist's professional concern with sex is entirely different. 
His primary interest is in its mechanism, the structure of cells by means 
of which reproduction is achieved. Sex as his working material is not 
only worldwide, it is also basically the same the world over, and the 
tools he uses to accomplish his work have no geographical boundaries. 

188 



THE STRANGER AT THE FEAST 

Romeo and Juliet and Mendel's experiments on heredity are both about 
sex and are both works of genius. We like to think, and perhaps it is 
true, that Shakespeare's poetry could have flowered nowhere but in 
Elizabeth's England. But if there is something in Mendel's work that 
can be recognized as scientific imagination, there is nothing in it that 
is specifically French. It could have happened anywhere, and in fact 
scientific work of this order is apt to turn up in any part of the world 
where there is a climate of science. Thus it seems that scientific 
imagination, if it exists, will turn out to be stateless. 

Imagination shows itself if at all in the actual grapple of a scientist 
with one of his problems. Let us watch what happens in a fairly typical 
situation, when he investigates a novel property of a lump of matter, 
for example, a mass of a certain gas. He is going to look into this matter 
in a very literal sense. At first he has nothing but a muddle of appar- 
ently unrelated and perhaps contradictory facts. His lump has a number 
of well-known characteristics its temperature, its pressure, and so on. 
"When these are changed its behaviour changes. What is the particular 
combination of these known features that produces the phenomenon 
he is studying? Many lines of thought, many different experiments are 
open to him. His work is a process of selection and rejection among 
a number of relations between physical quantities. Whether or not he 
uses them consciously, only connect are words that haunt his midnight 
oil. 

If he is on the right lines there is a moment when he exclaims, 'Of 
course, it must be that. Why didn't I spot it before?* It is the moment 
of insight, the intimation of light and order in darkness and disarray. 
Insight describes more modestly and exactly than imagination the 
power that has visited him. He has done a research, a searching again; 
he has looked into a problem; the problem has come out. The investiga- 
tion itself may be narrow and specialized. At the other end of the scale 
of insight it may tower into a generalization of the utmost grandeur. 
Newton's apple was any lump of matter. His kws of gravitation and 
of motion armed men to erect a majestic dynamic order out of the 
chaotic movements of the physical world; only on the threshold of the 
atom was his power abated. 

This hasty shot at a definition of scientific imagination would no 
doubt get rough handling in. a symposium of scientists. It may still 
point significantly enough in the right direction through the essentials 

189 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

of a good scientist's make-up to pass muster in this context. What it 
indicates is a capacity for intellectual awareness and penetration of a 
special kind, which is worlds away from the imagination of the artist. 

Even if its statelessness be granted it might still be true that scientific 
imagination occupies the separate fields of science in a statewise way. 
All the best physicists might be German, the best chemists American, 
and so forth. The world would be neater and duller if this were so. 
But nothing of the sort occurs. If the great masters of science are lined 
up according to nationality, nothing like a league table emerges, and 
we are no luckier if the classification is broken down into separate 
fields. On the contrary, it seems that pre-eminence in any subject 
flares up in different parts of the world as time passes. 

Occasionally there is an immense conflagration: the second half 
of the nineteenth century, with Kelvin, Ckrk Maxwell, Darwin and 
Huxley at work, was a brilliant epoch for British physics and biology. 
There are, of course, centres like the Cavendish at Cambridge which 
enjoy a peculiar prestige and embody perhaps a particular tradition. 
But is the Cavendish tradition a distinctively British one? We should 
be sparing in waving the flag over the schools of thought it has fostered. 
When Rutherford began to bombard the atom the men he inspired and 
who followed him did their work not because they were British nor 
because the Cavendish was in Cambridge, but because Rutherford was 
Rutherford and Rutherford was a New Zealander. 

We are therefore left with a rather bleak proposition. Scientific 
imagination is a specific intellectual power that is latent in every 
population that has learnt to be curious about the mechanisms govern- 
ing the behaviour of the physical world of animate and inanimate 
matter. Little is known about what controls its emergence into action 
and great achievement. Its apparently random distribution may be a 
confession of ignorance; it is itself a phenomenon on which some 
insight might be directed. Many practical questions bound up with it 
lack an answer. For example, what happens when you double the 
number of scientists in a population? Do you double the scientific 
imagination at your disposal? The answer must depend on how, and 
for what purpose, you double the workers. 

With this question we come at length to the situation of science 
today. Since the beginning of this century science has become the 
courted hireling of powerful states, the source from which their war 

190 



THE STRANGER AT THE FEAST 

potential has been built up and their industrial wealth, increased. This 
expansion has brought the scientific world immensely more of every 
material thing, money, training schools, equipment, organization; and 
surrounded it with its transformer, the vast machine for taking over 
scientific discoveries and putting them to work, which we call tech- 
nology. We have seen that scientific imagination is a personal thing. 
It is perhaps also a private one, a flower of the mind that opens to 
magnificence only when solitary, or when two or three are gathered 
together; What is happening to it now, when ten scientists grow where 
one grew before, when the unit of research is the large, highly organ- 
ized team, when the pace of experimental work can only be maintained 
by feeding it with ever larger packets of energy, often at astronomical 
cost? 

The prime mover in this expansion has been war. Consider some 
examples of its direct effect. So many words have been written and 
wasted about its most menacing instance that few need be added. 
Twenty years ago the pace of thermo-nuclear research, upon which 
scientific imagination of the highest order had been at work for many 
years, was suddenly accelerated. In consequence, our world crouches 
under the threat of the hydrogen bomb, whereas, had it been better 
ordered, it might now be moving slowly but more confidently for- 
ward to the peaceful energy stored in the nuclear reactor. 

Again, the young science of aeronautics has climbed into the air on 
the backs of two wars. The airliner is what it is today because the 
bomber succeeded in being what it was yesterday; and jet propulsion 
is here to remind us what the ballistic missile will do if shot in anger 
tomorrow. Concurrently the scientific signallers, with their radar 
technique, were making their mark in wartime space. In principle, 
guiding a sputnik to the moon has much in common with guiding a 
missile to its target; and the same electronic principles are involved in 
designing instruments to measure physical quantities en route and to 
signal the results back to earth. Thus the main elements necessary for 
the exploration of space have been assembled by the wartime impulse 
to survive. 

Driven by such ruthless pressures, there is now quantitatively plenty 
of science, though never anything like enough. The vital problem is 
qualitative; to make sure that the leaven of creative thought continues 
to quicken the growing lump. Two dements of this situation are 

191 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

actable. One affects equally every agglomeration of scientific effort. 
The other discriminates between different nations. 

The first is a straight, though hardly a straightforward, problem of 
administration. There is a scale effect that plagues strong expansion of 
any activity. It has to be directed, but what may be good for its growth 
when it is small may only succeed in grinding its vital parts to a halt 
when it becomes very large. The danger for large numbers of men at 
work is the appearance of a krge numbers of men to tell them what to 
do. This apparition in science invites the observations of Professor 
Parkinson, but one comment can be made. Large-scale administration 
is proceeding on traditional lines, by the promotion of senior scientists 
to administrative jobs which are more and more involved in politics. 
This is not the only course that could be taken: whether it will ulti- 
mately pay off is uncertain. We may suspect that Newton would have 
been much incommoded by the Director of Research with his over- 
loaded programmes and his exhaustive network of committees. And 
many a minuscule Newton now at work in a Civil Service is inclined to 
express his frustration at official channels in the derisive equation, 

scientist + politician = o 

This goes too far, but it implies a serious doubt, whether the present 
system can really conserve imaginative energy. 

The second feature of our scientific prospect is that some nations 
have more money to spend on science than others. Britain is the poor 
relation of the U.K.-U.S.A.-U.S.S.R. triangle. Can she find solid com- 
fort in the poor relation's observation that high thinking goes with 
plain living? British scientists often throw a quizzical friendly glance 
across the Atlantic "With their resources they can always bull-doze 
for their answers. They're lucky to be able to try everything once. We 
can't. WeVe got to look around very hard for a good buy, and make 
sure we buy it.' Sour grapes are mixed with sweet sense in the mouth of 
this speaker. The atmosphere breathed by the large team with expen- 
sive equipment and no worries about expansion is certainly an alter- 
native to that in which scientific insight seems most native. Even 
automation the do-it-yourself regimentation of our machines may 
return on the scientist like a boomerang. True, many current problems 
are insoluable without the aid of the mathematician's automatic 
machine, the high-speed computer. With its help he can get from the 

192 



THE STRANGEH AT THE FEAST 

input data A to the answer B with blessed speed. But the process is 
blind, the way of the plodder. 

Something is missing, the connexion between A and B, and it can 
only be reached by analysis, the product of physical insight and mathe- 
matical skill. So, too, in purely experimental work. In many fields, 
notably those most subject to national prestige, immense elaboration 
and expense is now the only way through. The stxing-and-sealing- 
wax experiment will soon perhaps be only a nostalgic memory. The 
real danger is that the strict thought that had to go with the shoe- 
string experiment may become only a memory, too. The British scien- 
tist who reflects in this way may be only whistling to keep his spirits 
up. All the same, while the wealthy man never really wants to change 
places with his poor relation, the converse is often not only most 
healthily true, but also a saving grace. 

Looking at Britain's place on the present frontiers of science, there 
are two major mysteries whose solution will depend much more on 
great scientific insight than on capital resources. The basic structure of 
the living cell is a problem whose complexity can be judged by refer- 
ence to the difficult exploration of the structure of the atom. What the 
atomic nucleus is to the ninety-two elements, so, it may dimly be dis- 
cerned, must be the nucleus of the living cell to the indescribably 
greater diversity of our world of living forms. Work at Cambridge and 
elsewhere on the threshold of this problem has produced intricate 
models of the cellular process which at least confirm that the difficulties 
ahead are of an order of magnitude greater than those the nuclear physi- 
cists faced. 

In the other mystery whose threshold we now approach, man at last 
proposes to look inward on himself. It may be that the problems of 
consciousness and personality, of thought, memory and emotion are 
locked against the tools of the scientist. Many of those best qualified 
to judge would stoutly maintain that this is so. It is popularly supposed 
that electronic experts, with their computers that can perform so many 
amazing tricks, are on the way to the construction of a machine that 
can think the way a man thinks. Nothing could be farther from the 
truth. Every such advance exposes more clearly the gap between the 
manipulation of matter and the working of the most primitive mini 
Yet if there is a material key to these mysteries, it must be found in the 
conduction of electric impulses along the formidable complex network 

o 193 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

of the nerve cells of the brain. Some of these processes can now be 
probed by delicate apparatus; the central difficulty is to bring them to 
bear with continuously experimental control on the working of a 
healthy brain. Thus we have to build up our meagre knowledge of 
the normal process by studying what happens to the subject when the 
brain is damaged. It is in cerebral pathology that the most significant 
advances will probably continue to be made. 

And finally, what of space research? Anything written on this subject 
is certain to be dismissed as nonsense by some, for among British 
scientists it produces arguments more barren, and more bedevilled by 
a confusion of values, than any other topic. Yet it is the one scientific 
project about which all the members of this symposium might find 
themselves united. For space research is too narrow a description. It 
is an exploration, a supremely human adventure which should engage 
the whole man; Shakespeare's imagination and Mendel's should have 
equal scope and authority here. It may, as we say, cost the earth, in 
which case its organization should be on a global scale chargeable to 
our globe's resources. This would happen in a well ordered world. It 
is not likely to happen in ours, whose very anarchy has provided the 
means to launch it. A Swift would see in its initial development the 
bawling of rival gangs of urchins up and down Space Street, using 
their freedom to spy more efficiently into one another's homes. It 
may be that as we go farther out to meet the grandeurs of the universe 
we shall be shocked into sanity. We do not know. 



194 



ADVERTISING 



The Advertising Go-Between 



Imagination operates always within restrictions. Sometimes it is 
able to use those restrictions; sometimes it is tamed by them; 
sometimes it persists in spite of them. The language of an art is 
itself restricting 1 gotta use words when I talk to you'. Writers are 
restricted to words, painters to paint, composers to certain musical 
instruments and a system of conventional notation. If an artist's 
imagination bursts too far out of the restricting medium it becomes 
incomprehensible to others until some critic takes over from the artist 
to find often to impose a form of some sort and to make the 
incomprehensible again comprehensible; to explain Action Painting 
or provide the key to Fmnegans Wake* 

Advertising is only a sort of bastard art, and there are more restric- 
tions on it than on art itself, It is impossible to understand how imagina- 
tion can operate in advertising without knowing what the most 
important of the restrictions are. 

First is this one: That all the donnees in advertising are imposed from 
outside. Henry James might select from the dross of others' conversa- 
tion the single anecdote he found himself able to use, but the man who 
'creates' an advertisement is stufied, like a Strasbourg goose, with what 
he must use. Before he begins, it has already been decided (perhaps he 
may have had a part in the decision) 'what his advertisement will offer, 
and to whom, and what form he will use a Press advertisement or 
poster of a certain size, a television commercial of a certain length. 
As for that form, though it is as rigjd as a sonnet, it will only rarely 
have been chosen because of its suitability to die particular message it is 
to contain. More usually the amount of money available and the 

195 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

audience to be reached are the most important factors in the decision to 
use, say, eleven-inch triples in the News of the World or thirty seconds on 
television. 

Next remember that advertisements are not usually created by single 
imaginations but by committees. What the public actually sees is 
almost invariably the result of a compromise, first within an agency, 
then between an agency and its client. The words of an advertisement 
will have been written by one hand, amended by many others. The 
pictures, in Press or on posters, will have undergone even further 
revision. First the copywriter has asked for a certain sort of illustration 
to his idea. Then the art director has interpreted that request in his own 
way, and his interpretation has suffered amendment, first within the 
agency, then by the client. Thereafter, the art director himself does not 
execute what has been agreed; a commercial photographer or artist does 
that, under direction. Imagination, in such circumstances, is only too 
likely to drip away between the cracks. 

"What robs the imagination of most force, however, is something that 
at first might be thought to give freedom. Nobody knows when or why 
an advertisement is successful. The aim of an advertisement is to persuade 
people to buy a particular product. There is no aesthetic flummery 
about ^an advertisement's being an object which is 'true to itself. It is 
a means to an end; the end is to sell the product advertised. 

But how does one effectively fashion such a means when there is 
no way of telling whether the end is achieved or not? The sale of any 
product is governed by too many variables. At the most fundamental 
level, advertising cannot sell a product which, at some level of their 
consciousness, people do not want, nor can it sell even a product 
people do want unless adequate quantitites of that product are already 
in the shops for them to buy, and on display so that they can see them 
to buy them. And there are so many other things affecting sales a 
discount offer from the competition, the position of a product on a 
retailer's shelves or in the window, tied public houses, supermarkets 
which have made private agreements with particular manufacturers, 
the weather, the Bank rate, sudden shifts in public taste or morality. 
However much an agency may spend in research in an attempt to cut 
down the variables, it is never enough to allow it to isolate the effec- 
tiveness of a particular advertising campaign. Furthermore, since all 
advertisements, being compromises of some so^t, are made up of a 

196 



THE ADVERTISING GO-BETWEEN 

number of different elements, even when a spectacular rise in sales is 
thought to be in response to advertising, nobody can decide which 
of those elements most caused the success. 

Imagination in advertising, then, is first compressed into forms and 
set to express messages which it does not itself choose, then driven to 
justify and compromise what it has produced, and lastly, having been 
given a task, is told that it will never know whether it has succeeded 
in that task. We cannot be surprised that the stereotype of the 'Agency 
Man* is either apathetic or alcoholic or both. 

From what has been said so far, advertising may seem an unattractive 
and cramping profession in comparison with the many other careers 
in business and industry open to young people of talent and imagination 
nowadays. Yet, as university Appointments Boards are discovering, 
more young men and women with good arts degrees are choosing 
advertising than the profession can accommodate expanding as it is. 
Certainly anyone who has been concerned with hiring copywriters 
must have grown used to interviewing a great many young applicants, 
graduates with literary or pseudo-literary ambitions, all of whom 
appear to believe that advertising will be not only a congenial occupa- 
tion in itself, but will allow them to 'express themselves*. 

In the 19305, one gathers, advertising was neither intellectually nor 
socially respectable. Nowadays agencies can command debutantes as 
secretaries and the sons of peers as 'contact men.* Psychologists, statis- 
ticians and 'brilliant young economists* go into agencies* marketing 
and research departments. There are Members of Parliament from the 
agencies, and one holds junior office. In the women's magazines the 
attractive advertising executive with the unruly lock of dark hair 
falling over his forehead and the blue eyes, wrinkling at the corners, 
has taken over from the painter and the journalist as a favourite fictional 
hero. 

At the same time the agency man has become a villain to the left, 
where before nobody bothered to consider him. (Most of an agency's 
'creative* people usually will be of the left, but tbis is like being a 
journalist for Kennedy working on a Republican newspaper, and makes 
the whole set-up even more morally dubious.) Even to some of the 
more old-fashioned Tories, or at least to those on the right who think 
seriously about moral issues at all, there is something morally un- 
comfortable about advertising. 

197 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

The jump in social status, the increasing shrillness of the attacks, and 
the, popularity of advertising as a profession among young intelligent 
graduates are all aspects of the same central situation. More and more 
money has been spent on advertising since the war (there are obvious 
economic reasons for this), and it is becoming known as a profession 
in which one can get rich quickly. But its attraction to people of talent 
and imagination is greater than that. It depends and knows it depends 
on such people, and it offers or seems to offer power. Every new 
Hidden Persuaders which is published, every scare that first President 
Eisenhower and then Mr. Macmillan have been put into office by 
an electorate gulled by advertising, makes that offer seem more 
real. 

In fact the offer is a delusion; the restrictions are too great; the 
effective practical power of advertisements is small and ill-directed; 
the Law of Human Inefficiency begins to operate long before we can 
all be turned into zombies. Nevertheless, just as no man is an expression 
of the ideal, yet every man has within him the possibility of the ideal, so 
there is, behind the compromise and waste, an 'ideal* way of devising 
advertisements. Most agencies recognize it, and some think they 
operate it. It demands imagination in the highest degree 'perverted', 
if you will, to the selling of confectionery or politicians but 
imagination anyway. But because it is an ideal, and men of what- 
ever talent, are not ideal (only reflecting its possibility), it does not 
often operate in practice, and then only imperfectly. The first part 
of this article has described what does happen. Here is what should 
happen. 

The system can be expressed visually as an *X'. At the top, over a 
wide area, information is gathered. Information about the product to be 
advertised and its competitors, information about the sort of people 
who use it, who use other products like it, who would not ever use 
such products, who do not use such products now but might be 
persuaded to do so. Information in width about the buying habits of a 
large sample of people, information in depth about the motives which 
impel such people to buy. Information about the distribution of the 
product and its competitors in shops, and what the shopkeepers them- 
selves think about it. All this information and more is gathered and 
funnelled down to a single person, and at the centre of the X, an 
imaginative experience occurs. The donnees are digested, and are trans- 

198 



THE ADVERTISING GO-BETWEEN 

muted not into a novel, a poem or a play but into what is called *an 
advertising idea*. 

Difficult to describe this idea in words. Essentially it is a relationship 
between people and the product. It may be contained in a situation 
an ostrich swallows its keeper's glass of Guinness, a woman's irritability 
threatens her husband's career or her children's happiness. However it 
is expressed, the formulation of the idea is the flashpoint within the 
funnel; the elements have combined, and made something new. 
Thereafter the X widens out again as different people, using different 
techniques, turn the idea into actual advertisements. 

The person at the centre of the X, the man who gets the information, 
creates the idea, and controls its execution, is someone who in most 
agencies is called a Group Head. He must be able to think in words 
and in pictures, in space (press and posters) and in rime (television), to 
be sensitive to sociological change and psychological stress; he must 
grow constantly, but never old; he must have a novelist's empathy, a 
dramatist's ear for the rhythms of common speech, a poet's ability to 
concentrate meaning into a single phrase, a politician's enjoyment in 
managing committees. He must be without anything important of his 
own to say, and hold, as far as it is possible for a human being to do so, 
an a-moral view of life. He does not, so far as we know, exist, and we 
may be glad of that. 

Imagination in its purest sense may be defined as the power which 
appreciates connexions where none was appreciable before. In 
advertising it is a rare but necessary quality. Our Group Heads 
must have it, but it may also crop up elsewhere in an agency one 
of the best known success stories of advertising in this country since 
the war is that of Babycham, which is an instance of marketing 
imagination. 

We need not expect, however, to find imagination of that sort 
among agency art directors or television directors, or from those they 
commission. The art director is part illustrator, part entrepreneur. He is 
responsible for the illustration and design of an advertising campaign 
up to the point at which it is shown to the client. If the client should 
approve the conception, die art director must then find and instruct 
an artist or photographer to turn his suggested illustrations into 
finished 'art work', and must thereafter supervise the making of the 
blocks from the originals* 

199 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

Obviously what is wanted from any painter or draughtsman com- 
missioned under these conditions is not imagination but skill, except 
on those comparatively rare occasions when the decision is made to 
commission an artist whose price and reputation are high enough for 
him to be able to impose his own conception on agency and client 
alike; one does not expect that Mr. Ronald Searle, for instance, is held 
to a tight brief. The same is true of the film directors hired by the 
agency to prepare commercials already scripted, the emotional 'line* 
already imposed. Mr. Alexander Mackendrick and Miss Wendy Toye, 
both of whom have directed commercials, have the reputation which 
would allow them to put a personal stamp on work of this kind, but 
in general those who direct commercials are as confined as the in- 
structed artists who produce the pictures for the Press advertisements. 

Perhaps we may make an exception for photographers, who, 
taking many pictures of which one is chosen, have a far greater liberty 
to experiment, and certainly we should do so for those who devise tele- 
vision cartoons. Once the decision to use cartoon at all has been made, 
the film company's artist and the agency's copywriter begin to work 
closely in partnership to create a character as 'original' as the Sunblest 
Bread children or the 'Mother' of Mother's Pride. 

This may seem to denigrate the imaginative contribution of agency 
art directors, so it may be as well here to make a point about their work 
which is not often remembered. Copywriters are sometimes accused 
of corrupting the language, though in fact, skilful pasticheurs as they 
should be, they will more usually adapt the style of their advertise- 
ments to the editorial style of the media in which they appear. Art 
directors, it may be said, have a positively beneficial effect on popular 
taste. These people, after all, have spent their years under instruction 
at Britain's various art schools, and have been exposed to developments 
in painting and design over the past seventy-five years. They are not 
experimentalists, most of them: if they were, they would not be 
employed in an agency. But they have acquired a way of looking, 
and this is reflected usually in the advertisements they illustrate, and, 
being so general in its diffusion, finds a public acceptance which is not 
even thought about, but provides a basic vocabulary which will help 
original artists to make a kind of contact. 

Even so seemingly small a thing as what is being worn, what 
furniture is in a house, what glass is used for drinking in an advertise- 

2OO 



THE ADVERTISING GO-BETWEEN 

ment can have a large effect. Women watdhing television are en- 
couraged in the commericals to identity (and do to a certain extent do 
so) with the attractive young mother who feeds jelly to her children, 
meat extract to her husband. Whatever the particular effect of the 
commercials on the sales of meat extract or jelly, a general effect is that 
more and more people in this country are coming to appreciate what is 
clean and elegant in design, and the overstuffed, the over-glazed, the 
various hideosities of cheap popular taste are less and less bought by 
younger people. 

Much as been said so far about imagination and about advertising; 
only the word 'British* has been absent. There are obvious reasons 
for this. Even in its execution advertising is often international. British 
television commercials have sometimes been made in France or Hol- 
land; an Italian artist may illustrate the advertisement that sells a 
British shampoo. 

As for the inspiration of our advertising, when, riding up on the 
escalator at Piccadilly Underground, we pass a poster that reads, 1 
dreamed I scampered through a field of com in my Maidenform Bra', 
or observe on our television screens the surprise and delight with which 
yet another housewife discovers that she has picked the pile of laundry 
washed in Daz, we do not think of these as in any way national. Instead, 
we know that another American campaign is being run in Britain. How 
can this not be so when so many of the articles of mass consumption in 
this country are manufactured by firms with parents in the United 
States? 

Even when manufactures are not American-owned, transatlantic 
influence on British advertising is bound to be strong. More money is 
spent on advertising in the United States than anywhere else in the 
world, and consequently research and marketing techniques are more 
developed there; British advertisers sensibly borrow them. Most of 
what we have learnt about television commercials comes from 
America where experience of commercial television is longer. Earlier 
in this article there was a mention of the 'Mother* in Mothers Pride. 
She is a sterling Lancashire lady, btit surely she owes something to 
America's 'Emily Tipp*, just as those rugged cartoon confectioners, 
Messrs. Callard & Bowser, share many of the characteristics of the 
American beer-making Brothers PieL 

There is a British advertising tradition. There are two, one of which 

201 



THE BRITISH IMAGINATION 

is pernicious. This is the 'whimsical 5 tradition, most common during 
the 19305, but still to be found. It is self-indulgent advertising a kind 
of middle-class private joke, apparently designed to amuse the adver- 
tiser and his client, but not seeming to have much behind it in the 
way of a marketing policy. 

The other British tradition is more respectable; it is the tradition of 
telling a story when there is a story to tell. It is solid, and a little dull. It 
may be distrusted by the Americans (who are better at telling a story 
when there isn't a story to tell) and despised by the French, but it is 
still the best way to advertise proprietary medicines Lloyd's Adrenalin 
Cream, T.CJP. or even Kellogg's All Bran. 

Moreover, since the war it has grown in strength and respectability 
with the rise in the number of what are called 'prestige* advertisements. 
Here the aim is not to sell groceries, but to induce the public particu- 
larly, perhaps, the investing public, and, where questions of national- 
ization are concerned, the voting public to look with favour on the 
activities of an industrial company or group of companies. The quasi- 
journalistic copy of many of these advertisements, and the quality of 
the photography are expressions of the national scene in a national 
tradition of which we may decently be proud. 

Advertising is always said to be a young man's profession, and, as we 
have seen, in spite of the restrictions it places on the exercise of imagina- 
tion, the quality of its recruits has risen since the war. More intelligence 
is being applied now to the gathering of information and to the direc- 
tion and composition of advertisements. Puns are rarer in headlines ; 
Gerald and Hawkins have disappeared from the Rose's Lime Juice 
advertisments; advertising in Britain is growing up. The new school 
of British advertisers has shown a decided disposition to learn from 
America. 

Now it may be time to consider again. Even if one accepts as one 
must accept that basic human motivations are universal, and that 
women in Dallas, in Newton Abbot, in Beauvais and in Tokyo will all 
fear disease, need sexual fufilment and the love of their children and 
respect from their neighbours, it does not necessarily follow that the 
same advertisement will do for all of them. Advertising ignores in- 
dividual differences, because it has to, but communities are larger than 
individuals. Effective advertising should be based on certain universal 
similarities, certainly, but it may do well to express them in distinc- 

202 



THE ADVERTISING GO-BETWEEN 

tively national terms. There may be suet a thing as a British style in 
advertising a documentary style (you may have glimpsed something 
like it in the commercials Mackendrick made for HorHcks) and, if 
we can get rid of the Schweppeshire Guide in us, we may yet be able 
to develop it. 



203 



It is difficult to talk to you about my impressions 
it takes a great deal of space to generalize ; and (when 
one is talking of London) it takes even more to 
specify ! I am afraid also, in truth, that I am living here too 
long to be an observer I am sinking into dull British 
acceptance and conformity. 

The other day I was talking to a very clever foreigner 
a German (if you can admit the *clever*} who had 
lived a long time in England, and of whom I had asked 
some opinion. *Oh, I know nothing of the English,* he 
said, f l have lived here too long twenty years. The first 
year I really knew a great deal. But I have lost it !" 

That is getting to be my state of mind and I am 
sometimes really appalled at the matter of course "way of 
looking at the indigenous life and manners into which I 
am gradually dropping I I am losing my standard my 
charming little standard that I used to think so high; my 
standard of wit, of grace, of good manners, of vivacity, 
of urbanity, of intelligence, of what makes an easy and 
natural style of intercourse ! And this in consequence of 
my having dined out during the past "winter 107 times ! 
When I come home you will think me a sad barbarian I 
may not even, just at first, appreciate your fine points ! 
You must take that speech about my standard with a 
grain of salt but excuse me; I am treating you a 
proof of the accusation I have brought against myself 
as if you were also a dull-eyed Briton. 



The truth is I am so fond of London that I can afford 
to abuse it and London is on the whole such a fine thing 
that it can afford to be abused! It has all sorts of superior 
qualities, but it has also, and English life generally, and 
the English character have, a certain number of great 
plump flourishing uglinesses and drearinesses which offer 
themselves irresistibly as pin-cushions to criticism and 
and irony. The British mind is so totally un-ironical in 
relation to itself that this is a perpetual temptation. You 
will know the things I mean you -will remember them 
let that suffice. 

HENRY JAMES in a letter of 1879 to Grace Norton 



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